Dealing With Pre-Existing Injuries in Car Accidents
If you are in a car accident, a major focus of the insurance company for the other side (or the attorney for the defendant if you file a lawsuit) will not just be the scope and extent of your injuries, but also whether the car accident actually caused your injuries.
You may be quick to say that the accident surely caused your injuries, but a major argument against what you are saying are the existence of pre-existing conditions.
What Are Pre-Existing Conditions?
Throughout our lives, we naturally suffer injuries, ailments, or disease that may simply be a part of the aging process, or a consequence of being active or having a strenuous job. In some situations, victims may have been involved in previous car accidents or slip and falls, sometimes years ago.
Defendants will try to argue that whatever pain you say is caused by the accident is actually caused by these conditions or accidents, which predated, and are unrelated to, the car accident.
In fact, in many cases, a defendant in a car accident will admit that they are at fault for causing the accident, but will furiously fight over pre-existing conditions.
Luckily, Florida has a standard jury instruction to deal with pre-existing conditions. The jury instruction requires that if jurors find that there is a pre-existing injury that aggravated a condition that already existed, the victim can recover damages.
If the jury can determine how much of the victim’s injuries are caused by the accident and how much are caused by whatever condition pre-existed the accident, they can only award as damages whatever is caused by this accident.
However, if jurors can’t determine what pain, injury or ailment is caused by the prior condition and what is caused by this accident, they must assume that all of the victim’s injuries are caused by this accident, and award damages accordingly.
This instruction places the burden of showing that a victim’s pain or injuries is caused by a pre-existing condition on the defendant. Practically, in many cases, it will be very difficult to determine how much of an injury is caused by which accident.
Defendants Often Do Not Understand the Instruction
Despite this instruction, you will still find many insurance companies and lawyers for defendants treating a victim’s pre-existing injury or prior medical history as if it was an automatic disqualifier for damages.
Unfortunately, many doctors do not understand the necessity of separating injuries that may have pre-existed, as opposed to those caused by an accident. Medical records can often be confusing, vague or ambiguous, and may incorrectly “mash up” injuries or conditions from the past and the present.
You should not tell your doctor what to say in records or how to treat you. However, in discussing your injuries to your doctor, you should be very clear about what symptoms you had before the accident, and why those symptoms are different now, after the accident.
Tampa car accident attorneys at The Pawlowski//Mastrilli Law Group can answer your questions and help you obtain damages for injuries sustained in a car accident. Reach out to us today for help.