Who is Responsible When an Injury Aggravates a Pre-Existing Condition?
You probably know that someone who negligently injures you is generally responsible for damages. For example, if you are crossing the street in a crosswalk and are hit by a car because the driver was texting instead of paying attention to the road, that driver will typically be responsible for your damages. Those may include medical expenses, lost income during your recovery, and other losses associated with the accident.
But, your claim may be more complicated if you have pre-existing medical conditions that were aggravated by or contributed to your current injury.
General Liability for Negligence
In simple terms, a person or entity in both Massachusetts and New Hampshire is typically liable for injury to another person if:
- They owed some duty of care
- They failed to live up to that duty of care, and
- That failure caused the injury
While “duty of care” sounds somewhat formal and technical, it simply means a responsibility to another person. That responsibility may be direct, such as a daycare provider’s responsibility to keep a child safe. Or, it may be general, such as a driver’s responsibility to follow traffic safety laws and behave in a manner that does not put other drivers, pedestrians, bicyclists and others at risk.
If the daycare provider breaches their duty by going outside to take a phone call and leaving the children unattended and a child is hurt, they will typically be responsible for damages. Similarly, if a driver runs a red light and hits a pedestrian, they will generally be liable for the pedestrian’s medical expenses and other losses associated with the accident.
What is a Pre-Existing Condition?
A pre-existing condition is simply a medical condition or problem that existed before the accident in question. For example, if you recently had knee surgery and are now dependent on a brace to support your knee and experiencing some pain when you walk, that’s a condition that you already have.
If you slip and fall at your local grocery store because they failed to clean up a spill, the store obviously won’t be responsible for the pain and weakness in your knee due to your surgery. But, they will typically be liable for any additional injury or aggravation of the injury attributable to the fall.
Liability for an Injury with a Pre-Existing Condition
In the example above, the grocery store was not liable for an injury that predated the fall. That’s common sense, but it isn’t always so straightforward.
For example, imagine that you have back problems from your days as a college football player. You are able to go about your everyday life, but experience pain, and have some limitations on lifting and other stresses on your spine. The doctor has advised you that surgery is an option, and may be necessary someday. But, the pain and limitations are not severe enough for you to consider surgery.
Then, you are involved in a car accident. The accident is the other driver’s fault. After the accident, you notice that you’re having pain more often, and that the pain is more severe. You go to the doctor and testing shows that your spine has been further damaged. At this point, the doctor increases your restrictions and recommends that you go ahead with surgery.
Your options at this point are to move forward with a more limited lifestyle and increased pain or to undergo surgery that you might otherwise have been able to avoid.
In this situation, your pre-existing condition played a role. You were already experiencing pain and some limitations. In addition, it is possible that without your pre-existing condition, you would not have suffered such a serious back injury.
However, you are worse off than you were before the accident. That means the other driver may still be responsible for some damages.
Calculating Damages in a Pre-Existing Condition Case
Cases involving pre-existing conditions tend to be more difficult than the typical personal injury case. There are some legitimate reasons for that difficulty, but part of the problem is simply that insurance companies often see a pre-existing condition as a way to attempt to avoid or minimize payment.
Determining the degree to which your injuries and related losses are a result of the accident typically requires expert witnesses. And, if the damages are significant, the insurance company will undoubtedly bring in its own experts to attempt to downplay the impact of the accident on your condition. However, with the right experts and a well-constructed claim, it is possible to recover fair compensation.
If you have been injured through someone else’s negligence and you had a related pre-existing condition, it is important that you work with an injury attorney who is experienced in establishing medical damages in complex cases.
Attorney Kevin P. Broderick has devoted his legal career to helping people in Massachusetts and New Hampshire recover the compensation they deserve after car accidents and other injuries. To schedule a free consultation or learn more about how we can help, call 978-459-3085 or fill out the contact form on this site.
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