It is a rare person who goes through life without any type of injury or health problem. Whether you have tweaked your back while moving furniture or have a disability, the odds are good that at some point, you have needed medical treatment for some type of issue. If you have a pre-existing condition, you may wonder what will happen if you’re in a car accident that aggravates it.
Picture this: you have a herniated disc in your back, and are involved in a rear-end car accident. As a result of the wreck, you went from being able to go about your life with few restrictions to needing surgery on your back. Can the at-fault driver be held responsible for this injury?
As a general rule, people who are hurt in car crashes cannot recover for existing injuries — unless the accident aggravated it. In these situations, you may be able to recover for the full extent of your injuries. An experienced Glendale auto accident attorney can help you through the process, and fight for your right to full compensation.
What Is a Pre-Existing Condition or Injury?
A pre-existing condition is any type of injury, illness, or condition that a person had before getting into an accident. It can include both physical and mental health conditions.
Common pre-existing conditions include degenerative disc disease, arthritis, asthma, depression, migraines or headaches, anxiety, and diabetes. The existence of these pre-existing conditions is usually documented through medical records.
The defendant in a personal injury case usually learns about these pre-existing conditions during the discovery process. This is when each side exchanges information about the case. The defendant’s insurance company will typically request medical records from the plaintiff (injured party/person who filed the lawsuit).
It may be tempting to try to hide the fact that you have a pre-existing condition or injury. Doing this can be damaging to your case, as it will make you less credible and may even result in sanctions from the court.
In addition, there is no reason to try to keep this information from the defendant. Under the “eggshell plaintiff” rule, the at-fault party in a personal injury case will still be financially responsible for the injuries that you suffered in an accident — even if your injuries are only as bad as they are because you had a pre-existing condition.
What Is The “Eggshell Plaintiff” Rule?
In the legal system, accident victims who have an existing injury or a pre-existing condition are often referred to as “eggshell plaintiffs.” This comes from the idea that these individuals are more fragile or susceptible to injury than people without existing injuries or conditions. In California, being an eggshell plaintiff does not bar you from recovering financially for your injuries.
Instead, California law recognizes what is known as the eggshell plaintiff rule. This rule holds that defendants in a personal injury case takes the plaintiff as they find them. In other words, the defendant cannot argue that they are not liable for injuries that may not have happened if the plaintiff did not have a pre-existing condition.
Consider an example: David suffered a traumatic brain injury (TBI) in a fall several years ago. While driving under the influence, Charlie slams into David’s car, causing David to suffer a skull fracture and a second TBI. While the impact of the collision may have not have caused either injury to a person who didn’t have a prior skull, Charlie is still responsible for the full extent of David’s injuries because he has to “take him as he is.”
In California, this rule is recognized through a jury instruction, which is read to the jury by the judge before they begin deliberations. The jury instruction states that while an accident victim is not entitled to compensation for any physical or emotional condition that they had before the crash, but if that condition was made worse by the accident, they are entitled to compensation to the extent that their condition was aggravated.
Although the insurance company may attempt to avoid liability for the aggravation of pre-existing conditions, your attorney will use medical records and expert witness testimony to make your case. For example, an x-ray or MRI taken of your back prior to the accident may show a certain level of degenerative disc disease. Those records can be compared to an x-ray or MRI taken after the crash to show how much worse your back is because of the accident.
Importantly, the at-fault driver will not be responsible for the underlying condition itself — just for whatever additional injuries or damage the accident caused. If you suffered from chronic migraines before the collision, the defendant won’t be responsible for your regular treatment. But if the accident increased the severity of your migraines to the point that you require even more extensive treatment, then the defendant will be liable for those expenses.
Depending on the case, the at-fault driver may be required to not only pay for medical treatment, but for lost wages, reduced earning capacity, pain and suffering, and other damages. A Los Angeles auto accident attorney can evaluate your case and advise you on the possibility of recovering these and other types of compensation.
Hurt in an Accident? We Can Help.
Having an existing injury or condition doesn’t mean that you can’t recover for your injuries after a car accident. You are entitled to compensation for the full extent of your injuries that were caused by the crash — which includes any aggravation of a pre-existing condition.
At Megeredchian Law, our team of experienced legal professionals is devoted to helping Californians who have been hurt in all types of accidents. We offer free initial consultations, and never charge a fee unless we recover money for you. To learn more or to schedule a free initial consultation, contact us online or call us at 818-530-1300.