Not many of us older than 30 have avoided a back or neck problem in our lives. Even young people who play sports often experience injuries in the neck or back or joints. Is it possible for a person who had a previous, or an ongoing physical condition, to make a claim for injuries from a car accident? How is compensation for such an injury claim determined?
Fortunately, the law recognizes that not everyone who is injured in a car or truck accident is in perfect physical condition. The law applies common sense to determine the appropriate compensation for persons who are injured in a car or truck accident, when those injured in an accident had physical problems or a previous injury at the time of the accident. The law divides up these situations into two categories: 1) previous injuries or a physical condition that would make a person more susceptible to injury and 2) a pre-existing ailment or injury that was ongoing, but then aggravated, by the accident.
Those who have had previous injuries (such as a prior car accident injury or sports injury) or those who have physical conditions (such as arthritis) are more susceptible to being injured in a car accident. Damages to such persons cannot be reduced, or denied, simply because they were more susceptible to being injured. The striking driver cannot avoid or limit his liability for injuries he caused simply by asserting that the injuries would not have occurred, or would have been less severe, had the claimant been a "normal" or "average" person. The legal principle involved is that a negligent driver "takes his victim as he finds him." So, even if a "normal" person would not have been injured in a "minor" collision, but the claimant is injured in such a collision because of his weakened physical condition, the law requires the striking driver to pay compensation for the actual injuries sustained.
It is a bit more complicated for those who were suffering the effects of a pre-existing physical ailment—or a prior injury—at the time of a collision. If the claimant had an ongoing physical condition that was made worse by the car accident, the striking driver is only responsible for damages to compensate for the "worsening" of the condition. How can this be determined? Sometimes the claimant's doctor will offer an "apportionment" of the auto injury to the pre-existing condition—the striking driver will only be responsible for the medical expenses and pain and suffering damages according to that percentage. Other times the claimant's doctor will be able to say when the claimant returned to "baseline" after a car accident, meaning that the striking driver is responsible only for those damages to the claimant until the claimant returned to "baseline" and no more. More often, however, the claimant's doctor is unable (or unwilling) to render an opinion of apportionment of damages caused by the car accident.
If there is no evidence as to how to separate out the pre-existing condition from the auto injury, then the striking driver is responsible to pay for all the medical expenses and damages for pain and suffering after the car accident. That is why, when the claimant's doctor can't apportion the injury from the car accident, as compared to the claimant's pre-existing condition, the striking driver's insurance company will often hire its own doctor to render such an opinion (and thereby limit the damages to be paid on the claim).
Presenting a claim for damages from a car accident is complex—but even more so if you had a pre-existing condition that made you more susceptible to an injury in the collision, or if you were under treatment for a pre-existing condition at the time of the car accident. Without experienced personal injury attorneys on your side, you will have a difficult time presenting your case to any insurance adjuster in these kinds of situations. Consider obtaining a free initial consultation with an experienced personal injury attorney, such as those at Clawson & Clawson LLP, to find out your options in this, or any, car accident case.