I Have A Pre-existing Medical Condition That Was Aggravated After My Accident, Can I Still Pursue A Claim In Virginia?
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Sometimes a person will suffer far more severe injuries than one might expect in an accident, due to a pre-existing medical condition. Virginia follows the “eggshell skull” rule, which allows injured people to recover some damages if they have a pre-existing medical condition that was aggravated after an accident.
The “Eggshell Skull” Rule
This legal concept is a descriptive term for the idea that you take your plaintiff as you find him. The issue is not whether the accident would have injured a healthy person, but whether the event hurt the actual plaintiff. If the plaintiff had a pre-existing medical condition that caused him to be much more susceptible to injury, like an “eggshell skull,” or to suffer more severe harm than one might anticipate, the liable party must pay for the actual damages the plaintiff sustained.
Let’s say that someone has a rare genetic condition that caused him to have an extremely thin skull. In a low-speed fender-bender, this person suffered a skull fracture from an impact that would not have harmed someone with a skull of typical thickness. The defendant cannot get out of liability by arguing that 99.99% of people would not have suffered a severe injury. The defendant “takes the plaintiff as he finds him.”
What Happens If the Plaintiff Is Unaware of the Medical Condition
The plaintiff’s knowledge of the medical condition does not increase or decrease the amount in damages he can receive for his injuries. For example:
- Plaintiff Smith knew that he had arthritis in his spine. He saw a rheumatologist and physical therapist in order to manage his disease and maintain as much function as possible. In a collision, he sustained three fractured vertebrae. The defense expert testified that the impact of the crash would not have injured a person without a medical condition that weakens the spine. The judge awarded Mr. Smith damages for the fractured vertebrae.
- Plaintiff Jones had occasional stiffness in his back but did not experience enough discomfort to seek medical attention. He was in a crash and suffered three fractured vertebrae. The MRI revealed pre-existing damage from a chronic degenerative condition, likely arthritis. The pre-existing condition made Mr. Jones predisposed to severe spinal injury, even from a low-impact collision. The fact that Jones did not know about the degenerative condition did not affect his money damages.
Awareness of the pre-existing condition does not impact the amount of compensation.
Limitations on Damages for Aggravation of Pre-Existing Medical Condition in an Accident
You can recover for the amount that the accident worsened the condition, but not for the underlying condition itself as it was before the accident. In other words, Smith or Jones can collect damages for the fractured vertebrae, but not for arthritis. If your discomfort was at a level of a three before the accident and after the wreck, your pain was “about 11,” you can get money damages for the eight levels that the accident increased or worsened your condition.
- Plaintiff Smith knew about his arthritis. He can document the level of his flexibility, strength, and range of motion from his rheumatologist’s records and his physical therapy assessments and progress notes. If Smith was no longer able to walk without using a walker and had to use a wheelchair for long distances, his damages will be to the extent that the accident worsened his condition.
- Plaintiff Jones was blissfully unaware that he had a fragile spine. He was able to engage in ordinary activities without discomfort, other than occasional stiffness. After the fractured vertebrae, his condition is similar to that of Smith, requiring a walker for short distances and a wheelchair for longer walks. Jones’ damages will relate to the difference between his pre-accident function and his post-accident function.
- Compare Smith and Jones to a person who had no pre-existing condition. If someone without a degenerative medical condition sustains three fractured vertebrae in an accident, he will get the full measure of his damages without reduction for a pre-existing condition.
We will need to measure your situation before the accident and compare that to how you are after the wreck.
The Danger of Trying to Handle Your Claim Without a Lawyer if You Have a Pre-Existing Condition
If you have a pre-existing medical condition that was aggravated after an accident, an insurer might make you a low-ball offer and make you think that you are lucky to get that much. The adjuster might tell you that you cannot collect compensation for your injuries because they were related to a pre-existing condition, but the insurer is offering you a small amount to get rid of your claim.
When a personal injury lawyer handles your case, the insurance company is less likely to play that trick. If the insurer takes an unreasonable position about your pre-existing condition, we can file a lawsuit on your behalf.
At the Parrish Law Firm, PLLC, we fight hard to get you all the compensation that you deserve. Call us today at (571) 229-1800 for a free consultation before the statute of limitations under Virginia § 8.01-243 expires.