When treating an accident victim, doctors sometimes find a pre-existing condition. This diagnosis can be surprising if that condition was asymptomatic. As a Long Beach personal injury attorney, I have represented many clients who had no idea they had a pre-existing condition until it was worsened by an accident.
Victims who discover they have a pre-existing condition need to understand it’s impact on their injury case. In California, a 1977 case called Ng v. Hudson explains how pre-existing conditions should be handled in a personal injury case. According to Ng, a victim can obtain compensation for injuries “to the full extent that his condition has worsened as a result of a defendant’s” actions.
Pre-existing conditions can make accident claims more complicated, but you should not let that stop you from pursuing compensation for your injuries. If your attorney can establish how severely the accident worsened any conditions or injuries you had beforehand, you will receive full compensation.
Potential Pre-Existing Conditions Affecting Personal Injury Claims
Any medical condition existing prior to the accident is a pre-existing condition, even if it was asymptomatic. Examples include:
- Degenerative disc disease
- Cervical degenerative disc disease
- Lumbar spinal stenosis
- Cervical osteoarthritis
These are all degenerative conditions impacting the back and neck. However, pre-existing conditions could impact any part of the body. These conditions may not be causing pain if they have not progressed.
Pre-Existing Conditions and Personal Injury Damages
Diagnosis of a pre-existing condition can complicate an accident claim. California law does not allow accident victims to recover compensation for physical or emotional problems that exist prior to an accident. Defendants don’t pay for problems already affecting accident victims.
However, accident victims should be paid for all losses that can be traced back to the accident. This is true even if the victim is more susceptible to injury because of a pre-existing condition.
California Civil Jury Instruction 3927 explains the rule: “Plaintiff is not entitled to damages for any physical or emotional condition that he/she had before defendant’s conduct occurred. However, if plaintiff had a physical or emotional condition that was made worse by defendant’s wrongful conduct, you must award damages that will reasonably and fairly compensate him/her for the effect on that condition.”
This rule requires accident victims to prove how the accident affected an existing condition. When the pre-existing condition was asymptomatic, the victim was not suffering any pain prior to the accident. Therefore, symptoms now occurring should be traced back to the accident.
As a Long Beach personal injury lawyer who has represented many clients with asymptomatic pre-existing conditions, I know how to prove these types of damages. It is necessary to present medical evidence and expert testimony to demonstrate the harm resulting from the accident. It is also essential to show that the victim was not receiving treatment for the condition before the accident.
When Pre-Existing Conditions Result in More Serious Personal Injuries
A slip and fall or auto accident can cause more severe injuries to someone with a pre-existing condition, than to someone who is 100% healthy. For example, a victim with a bone density disorder is more likely to break bones in an accident than someone with normal bone density.
Nonetheless, all victims of personal injury accidents are entitled to compensation for all injuries traced back to the accident. California Civil Jury Instructions 3923 explains the rules for “unusually susceptible plaintiffs.” The jury must “decide the full amount of money that will reasonably and fairly compensate plaintiff for all damages caused by the wrongful conduct of defendant, even if plaintiff was more susceptible to injury than a normally healthy person would have been, and even if a normally healthy person would not have suffered similar injury.”
This rule is called the eggshell plaintiff rule. It means a defendant must take the plaintiff as he finds him. The defendant must still pay for losses he caused, and the plaintiff’s susceptibility to injury is simply bad luck.