Pre-Existing Injury in a Personal Injury Case
Suffering from an injury can be traumatizing. Suffering an injury due to an accident when you have a pre-existing injury or other medical condition only compounds your pain and suffering. But how does it affect your monetary recovery? How does your prior condition affect the value of your current personal injury claim?
Importance of Discussing Your Pre-Existing Injury
The final determination rests with the jury as to how your pre-existing injury affects a personal injury case, so it is important to discuss all the possible ramifications with your attorney. In many cases, personal injury attorneys are able to negotiate a fair settlement so that you can avoid going to trial. In order to do so, it is important that you and your attorney have an open and frank discussion about any pre-existing medical conditions you may have so you can prepare your case in the best possible way.
Your attorney’s goal will be to present your case clearly showing:
- The defendant’s liability for your injury
- The nature and extent of your injury
- The damages you deserve to be awarded in compensation for your injury
The presence of a pre-existing injury or condition is absolutely not a bar to recovery, but your attorney needs a full understanding of your medical condition to make the strongest possible case in your favor.
Disclosing Your Personal Medical Information
Personal injury suits, whether they appear straightforward, as in the case of a driver hitting a pedestrian, or complex, such as a workplace injury and possible recovery under worker’s compensation, all inevitably involve intense factual investigation into the nature of the injury sustained and the circumstances that lead to the injury.
If you were injured in an accident, you are likely to be asked detailed questions about your health and medical history and it is common for attorneys and insurance companies to ask for disclosure of medical records dating back several years as part of the discovery process. It is crucial when discussing your claim with a personal injury attorney to disclosure any pre-existing conditions which might affect your case. For example, you previously injured your back and you are now claiming that the subject accident injured your back, or you suffer a continuing medical condition such as asthma and you are currently claiming that chemical exposure has caused you respirator damage. Any medical occurrence or condition you experienced before the accident may be relevant and an experienced attorney can help you understand the possible ramifications of your pre-existing condition. Failure to discuss a condition with your attorney could result in a more difficult trial or a lower settlement so it is important to be as open as possible.
Pre-Existing Conditions Can Affect Your Award of Damages
Every personal injury case relies heavily on factual circumstances underlying the claim. No two cases are identical so while an attorney can give you a rough idea of the kind of compensation to seek based on your experience, there is no set standard award level for a given injury.
If your attorney has built a strong case for liability, you are likely to receive a better settlement offer or a higher award than if there is a question as to, for example, contributory negligence which would decrease your award.
Next, more severe injuries tend to yield higher awards. However, in the case of a pre-existing condition, your attorney will need to show that the injury you sustained was in fact caused by the defendant’s negligence. Simply put, a pre-existing injury may result in a lower settlement offer or award largely because of the effect it may have on proving that the accident in question caused your injury. This is why it is important to disclose as much information as possible regarding your medical condition to your attorney. Often, you may prove that your injury was caused by the accident if you were no longer treating for your pre-existing injury.
Illinois juries may consider a number of elements with regard to the award of compensation:
- Prior and anticipated pain and suffering;
- Disability resulting from the injury;
- Prior and anticipated medical expenses;
- Anticipated wage loss resulting from the injury;
- Disfigurement resulting from the injury; and
- Emotional distress resulting from the injury.
Until 2004, aggravation of a pre-existing condition was a separately delineated element of damages. The court decisions handed down in Luye v. Schopper, 809 N.E.2d 156 (1st Dist. 2004) and Hess v. Espy, 813 N.E.2d 270 (2nd Dist. 2004) resulted in the withdrawal of such aggravation as a separate element. However, it is important to note that while it is no longer a separate element, it is still up to the jury to consider whether a pre-existing condition should be a factor in the assessment of damages.
Finally, if the jury finds in your favor and assigns liability to the defendant, Illinois jury instructions state that the jury cannot deny or limit your right to damages resulting from the accident in question solely because your injury involved the aggravation of a pre-existing condition or that having the condition made you more vulnerable to injury. Your attorney can discuss with you the possibility of using this jury instruction and how best to present your pre-existing condition so that you obtain full and fair compensation.
Pre-Existing Conditions Aggravated by Your Work Environment
Sometimes, a pre-existing condition can become aggravated by your work environment. Constant use of a computer could aggravate your carpal tunnel. Lifting heavy loads could aggravate your old back injury. In such cases, you may be hesitant to file for worker’s compensation if there is any indication that you might face retaliation and lose your job. If your attorney argues that your previous injury or condition has not been causing you pain or interfering with daily tasks until it was aggravated by your work environment, your claim is more likely to succeed and occupational therapy may even make it possible to continue in your job.
It is important to draw a line between personal injury cases discussed above, and cases involving claims for worker’s compensation. The processes and elements you must prove for a worker’s compensation claim differ from the usual personal injury adjudication system and can be complex to navigate. An experienced personal injury attorney with McCarthy, Rowden & Baker will be able to advise you on what kind of recovery claim best fits you if you have a pre-existing injury that affects your personal injury case.