It’s unfortunate that accidents (often serious or even fatal) happen daily in the United States and worldwide. Statistically, many of those accidents in the U.S. translate directly to legal action in personal injury court as victims seek help in covering their, often very substantial, legal and medical bills.
But people aren’t just statistics, clusters of numbers wandering around until they suffer some tragedy. Human beings have complicated backgrounds and life stories that often leave lasting marks, which the legal and insurance fields consider simply to be “pre-existing conditions.”
Many people who seek financial compensation after being involved in a personal injury face the question of whether a pre-existing condition can affect their case or even prevent them from seeking remuneration at all. In this article, we’ll explore how a pre-existing condition can affect these kinds of legal proceedings.
What is a Pre-Existing Condition?
Thanks to the modern insurance systems in the United States, most people are all too familiar with the term “pre-existing condition,” a term that simply refers to any injury, bodily condition, illness, or disease already present in a person prior to an accident or new sickness. These can include previously broken bones, injured body parts, or illnesses such as asthma, depression, diabetes, and so on.
In both the world of insurance and law, pre-existing conditions are generally used to the same end: to argue that the victim is a liability by being especially vulnerable to injury or that the victim’s suffering is due to their medical history and not the accident claimed to be the cause. In either case, insurance companies and defense lawyers will use these arguments to assert that victims are owed less compensation.
How Do Pre-Existing Conditions Affect Personal Injury Claims?
While you generally cannot argue that a pre-existing condition completely negates the suffering caused by a personal injury (more on this later), it doesn’t stop defense lawyers from trying to use these conditions to their client’s advantage and undermine a victim’s claims.
It’s vital that anyone beginning the legal process of seeking compensation for personal injury be completely honest with their personal injury lawyer about all relevant medical history from the get-go. This is for two reasons.
First, your attorney will need a full and accurate picture of your medical history to make a compelling case. Surprising your lawyer with new information mid-trial is never good for anyone.
Secondly, the defense attorney will seek out your medical records for their own reasons. If they can prove that you hid or tried to hide relevant medical information, it will not only undermine your case but can even leave you open to legal consequences for perjury or fraud.
Burden of Proof
In a personal injury case, it’s essentially the claimant’s job to prove that the suffering and financial woes they’ve experienced were, in fact, due to the accident and not merely a symptom of their pre-existing medical conditions.
On the other hand, it’s the defendant’s job to argue either that the claimant’s pre-existing condition made injury inevitable or that the claimant’s suffering is simply a result or extension of their pre-existing condition and is not due to the accident.
The Eggshell Plaintiff Rule
To provide a little more context, the burden of proof in all personal injury cases in the United States revolves around what’s known as the “eggshell skull” or “eggshell plaintiff” rule. This rule, recognized as valid in courthouses in every state of the US, states that the person or entity at fault for an accident or injury is ultimately responsible for all damage caused by their negligence, regardless of the vulnerability or medical history of the victim.
This rule looks at causation rather than damages. The court cares if the negligence of a person or group caused an accident, not how bad the resulting damage was.
The eggshell rule does have two important caveats. Firstly if an accident is caused entirely by a pre-existing condition instead of negligence, the victim can’t sue anyone. If you trip and fall on a well-maintained sidewalk because you aren’t used to using crutches, the city can’t be sued because the accident wasn’t a result of their negligence.
Secondly, Illinois recognizes the comparative negligence rule. This rule essentially states that if the defense can prove that the plaintiff’s negligence also contributed to the accident in question, it limits the amount of money the plaintiff can receive in damages.
For example, consider a driver injured when someone else rear-ended their car. If the plaintiff’s brake lights were broken, they could be considered to be partially responsible for the accident.
Turn to Pullano & Siporin for Trustworthy, Reliable Legal Representation
The most important factor of any personal injury claim is having a trustworthy and reliable legal team at your back. That’s where the legal expertise of Pullano & Siporin Law comes in. With more than 50 combined years of experience across a wide range of personal injury issues, don’t hesitate to contact us today for a consultation on your personal injury case.