Prior Injuries and Pre-Existing Conditions

Whether due a previous car accident, or another type of incident, most individuals have been injured in some way or another during their lifetime. Some may simply be more susceptible to injury due to a condition they were born with, or even as a result of the natural aging process. Following an accident, victims with prior injuries and/or pre-existing conditions often wonder the impact that these factors may have on their claim for damages.

The answer to this inquiry can be found in basic principles of personal injury law—that is, a Defendant is responsible for the harm he/she causes to a Plaintiff. Stated differently, it would be unfair and unjust to hold another responsible for injuries or harm that they did not cause. Consequently, regardless of the victim’s physical state at the time of a collision, what matters most is whether the Plaintiff is able to prove that the injuries complained of were sustained in the accident caused by the Defendant.

Consider the following scenario:
A low-impact rear-end collision causes an elderly woman to suffer a broken wrist, as well as neck and back injuries, in an accident that normally would not have caused injury to a young, healthy 20-year old.

Well here, the fact that the victim was more fragile due to age-related degenerative bone conditions, does not mean that the Defendant is any less liable, or that damages should be reduced. Well-established legal principles clearly state that a Defendant ‘takes their victim as they find them.’ Degenerative conditions are typically regarded as incidental, and therefore generally do not affect or limit the amount of compensation that a victim is entitled to.

Compare to:
Same scenario as above, but the elderly victim has BOTH degenerative conditions, as well as a pre-existing injury of her wrist that she never received treatment for.

Here, the issue of degenerative conditions related to age, remain the same. However, the presence of a prior injury to victim’s wrist, which was never treated, is likely to result in a reduction or limitation in the amount of compensation for that particular injury. In addition, if the Defendant can show that the wrist injury caused or contributed to the back injury, then this too, can impact financial recovery.

Consider another scenario:
A collision occurs and the victim sustains injury to a different area of the body than injured in a prior accident. (i.e. current injury was to neck or back and prior injury was to leg or foot).

Here, the Defendant must show a causal connection between the prior injury and the current one. Proving this typically requires expert testimony, because it would difficult for a jury to effectively and accurately assess the relationship between a prior leg/foot injury with a current neck/back injury, without the assistance of an expert.

Compare to:
A collision causes aggravation, exacerbation, or relapse of a victim’s pre-existing neck or back injury.

Again, Defendants take their victims as they are. So the fact that a victim was injured previously will not, in and of itself, preclude or limit liability. However, in contrast to the previous scenario, the jury’s ability to assess the causal relationship between a prior and current injury, may preclude the requirement for additional expert testimony, given that such injuries were to the same area of the body. Here, the jury is free to make their own determinations as to whether the collision at hand either caused or contributed to the current injury.

The examples provided above represent just a few ways in which a prior injury or pre-existing condition can come into play in an auto negligence case. Claims of this nature generally involve complex evidentiary issues and amongst the most common type of case to proceed to trial. The Chicago Injury Lawyers of Zneimer & Zneimer P.C. are skilled litigation attorneys, with decades of experience representing clients in a diverse range of personal injury cases involving prior injuries and pre-existing conditions.

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