It happens every day. A person is rear-ended in a car accident and develops neck or back pain. They get medical treatment and x-rays show they have degenerative changes in their spine. They had never had any pain or treatment before the crash.
Can You Recover For Your Injuries From A Car Accident, Including An Aggravation Of A Pre-Existing Condition?
The answer is yes, but it often requires careful handling of the situation.
Reports from the World Health Organization indicate that about 1.3 million people die each year due to road accidents. Between 20 and 50 million more, individuals sustain non-fatal injuries, with some incurring permanent disability. It is no surprise that many people injured in car accidents have pre-existing injuries or conditions.
A pre-existing injury or condition can impact your personal injury case, but it really depends on the scenario. Personal injury laws are written to be equitable. If someone injures you, they should be held liable for the physical and emotional costs of those injuries. However, they can’t be forced to pay for the treatment of your pre-existing condition.
Common Pre-Existing Conditions
A common pre-existing condition that comes into play in car crashes is a degenerative spinal disease. The spine is made of bone and soft tissue, including ligaments, tendons, and discs. Spinal disks are like shock absorbers between the vertebrae, or bones of the spine. They help your backstay flexible. As the body ages, it can begin to show signs of wear and tear. The outer wall can become torn, and this can cause pain from the nerve fibers in the disk.
Similarly, the bony portions of the back can develop arthritis, which can lead to limitations in motion and cause pain. These conditions may result from the normal activities of daily living, or a work injury, or a sports injury in which the pain quickly resolves. These conditions normally take many years to develop.
MOST PEOPLE OVER THE AGE OF 30 HAVE SOME DEGENERATION IN THEIR SPINE.
A Hidden Problem
The interesting thing about this condition is that it can be a hidden problem, with no symptoms caused by the pathology in the spine. In-car crash cases it is very common for someone with a pre-existing condition to have no symptoms until the crash. This is a very well-known phenomenon and one with which spinal specialists are very familiar. These conditions can result from even a minor crash as the spine is already weakened and more susceptible to injury than a more healthy spine. Our firm has handled many cases where a seemingly minor crash may result in a lifetime of problems.
Such injuries are often treated conservatively, with medication, therapy, or exercise. If these are not helpful, anesthetic injections, blocks, and nerve ablations may be used. It is not uncommon for these to become permanent injuries that may require lifetime care. In the most serious cases, a surgeon may decompress the spine and remove discs and fuse the vertebrae in order to alleviate pain and limitation of function.
How Does Such A Situation Affect A Car Wreck Claim?
It is very common for an insurance company to argue that your problems are related to the pre-existing condition and not the wreck. While it is true that a car crash cannot cause the degeneration seen on x-rays and scans immediately after the crash, it is similarly well known that the trauma can cause pain that did not exist before. Because of this, Florida law clearly establishes that a person can recover money damages for an aggravation of a pre-existing condition.
Your Settlement and The At-Fault Party
If you can establish through testimony, including expert medical testimony, that the pre-existing condition was asymptomatic, and that the crash caused it to become symptomatic, you can recover the full value of your damages. This is obviously a very complex task and requires an experienced car accident lawyer to be your advocate to ensure the best result. It will require putting forth evidence of no prior problems or treatment, and subsequent problems and treatment after the crash.
The insurance companies are always very aggressive in using this as a defense, so it is best to have a capable advocate on your side. Your lawyer will be able to work with your doctors or other experts to prove the crash is the cause of your pain and maximize your recovery.
The negligent driver who caused the accident cannot use the auto accident injury victim’s condition as a defense in their case. Their defense attorneys can’t go before a judge and say, “My client shouldn’t be liable for the injury because the injury only happened due to the victim’s pre-existing condition.”
The judge or jury can order them to pay for treatment, lost wages, and pain and suffering related to the injuries that happened due to the auto accident, but not for lost wages that may have accrued before the accident.
APPENDIX FROM STANDARD JURY INSTRUCTIONS IN CIVIL CASES – REPORT NO. 13-02
As such, we first must examine, 501.5(a), “Aggravation or activation of disease or defect.” It states, “If you find that the (defendant(s)) caused a bodily injury and that the injury resulted in [an aggravation of an existing disease or physical defect] [or] [activation of a latent disease or physical defect], you should attempt to decide what portion of (claimant’s) condition resulted from the [aggravation] [or] [activation]. If you can make that determination, then you should award only those damages resulting from the [aggravation] [or] [activation]. However, if you cannot make that determination, or if it cannot be said that the condition would have existed apart from the injury, then you should award damages for the entire condition suffered by (claimant).”
Medical Treatment and Disclosure
If you have a back condition that was aggravated in an auto accident that wasn’t your fault, be transparent about your back problems before the accident and how they’ve become worse after the accident.
It is also important to seek medical treatment immediately after a car accident so your doctor can document your injuries and the source of those injuries and damages you suffered as a result of an accident caused by the negligent driver.
Joe Zarzaur is a Board Certified Civil Trial Lawyer whose firm is dedicated to promoting community safety since 2007. ZARZAUR LAW’S AREAS OF PRACTICE: Serious Personal Injury, Product Defect, Auto Accidents, Cycling Accidents, Motor Vehicle Accidents, Products Liability, Wrongful Death, Community Safety, Boat and Jet Ski Accidents, Slip and Fall Injuries, and more. Licensed in Alabama and Florida.
If you’ve been the victim of an auto accident in a ride-share vehicle, it’s important that you don’t make any rash decisions. Put yourself in the best possible position to receive the justice you deserve. It is also important to consult with a Board Certified Trial lawyer who has the knowledge and experience to help you. We know accidents can be stressful and want to make the process as easy as possible for you. Call Zarzaur Law, P.A. today at (855) Hire-Joe for a free legal consultation or visit www.zarzaurlaw.com.