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Can a Pre-Existing Injury Affect My Personal Injury Claim?

Posted in Personal injury on January 1, 2021

Pre-existing injuries are wounds or health problems a plaintiff had before the accident on which an injury claim is based. If you get injured in an accident and wish to file a claim against someone for damages, you will need to consider whether your claim involves pre-existing injuries. If so, take steps to improve your chances of achieving a fair outcome, as a pre-existing condition could make it more difficult to have a successful claim.

What Is a Pre-Existing Injury?

Within the civil justice system, a pre-existing injury is one the filing party had prior to the accident in question. It is a phrase often seen during personal injury and auto accident lawsuits in West Virginia. Pre-existing injuries are relevant to damage claims, as they may impact how much compensation is owed to the victim. If the injury or health condition in question is something the victim had prior to the incident, the defendant might not be liable for damages.

These are common pre-existing injuries and conditions that come into play during injury lawsuits. If you had any pre-existing injuries before an accident, know that this will not necessarily bar you from financial recovery. It can, however, make it more difficult to convince an insurance company to handle your claim fairly. 

How Might a Pre-Existing Injury Impact a Claim?

In general, a defendant will not be liable for a plaintiff’s pre-existing injuries unless the accident impacted them. If the accident made pre-existing injuries or conditions worse, only then may a defendant have to pay compensation for these injuries. A defendant will also be liable for the full extent of an injury related to his or her negligence – even if a pre-existing condition made the injury worse than it otherwise might have been. This is what’s known as the Eggshell Skull Rule.

The Eggshell Skull Rule is a legal doctrine that holds a defendant liable for a plaintiff’s full injuries and losses, even if the plaintiff had an uncommon reaction to negligence due to a pre-existing injury or condition. The name of the doctrine stems from an example of a person with a skull as thin as an eggshell. In this example, the plaintiff with a rare condition suffers a catastrophic brain injury in an accident that likely would not have injured another person. The defendant would be liable for the full amount of the plaintiff’s damages according to the Eggshell Skull Rule.

The Rule states that a defendant lawfully must take a plaintiff as he or she is at the time of the accident – even if this is a state that is predisposed to serious injuries due to a pre-existing injury or condition. Yet many insurance companies use pre-existing injuries as a reason to unfairly deny claims or diminish payouts. It is important to prepare yourself for a difficult claims process as someone with a pre-existing injury.

How to Handle a Claim With a Pre-Existing Injury

You are not ineligible for financial compensation as someone diagnosed with a pre-existing injury. Your claim, however, will be more complicated. Be wary of the insurance company in charge of your claim asking you to sign a medical authorization release form. This form could give the insurance company full access to your medical history – including records dating back before the accident. This is a common tactic used to try to find evidence that you already possessed the injury you are claiming. 

Provide copies of only those medical records and documents relevant to your current injury claim. You may also need a letter from your doctor or a medical expert to prove that the accident exacerbated your pre-existing injury or vice versa. Keep in mind that your claim will come under increased scrutiny because of your condition. Protect your legal rights in West Virginia by using a personal injury attorney to represent you.