Auto Accident Claims: Re-injuring a “Bad Back”

Juries are instructed on car accident victims with preexisting medical issues.
Juries are instructed on car accident victims with preexisting medical issues.

A common issue that arises in automobile accident claims is a new client that has been injured in an automobile accident, but also has a history of similar injuries or complaints in the past.  This raises a general question:  If someone with a preexisting history of treatment for a spinal injury is in an automobile accident that has made the condition worse, can he or she bring a claim?  The answer is most definitely “YES,” however, the strength of the case can be greatly affected by the pre-existing condition.

As every law student learns in Torts, the defendant “takes the plaintiff as he finds her.”  Such a plaintiff with a prior medical history is referred to as an “eggshell plaintiff,” meaning that the plaintiff was already somewhat fragile before the accident.  Thus, even if the accident would not have injured someone with a healthy spine, if it did aggravate and/or reinjur the spine (or other area) of someone with an already compromised spine, then the wrongdoer “takes that plaintiff as he/she is,” and is responsible for the additional damages that resulted from the car accident.

While this legal doctrine does allow a claim by someone with preexisting injuries, that does not mean such a claim is without challenges.  In my experience, the more remote the injuries and treatment were in time from the date of the accident, the stronger the claim.  For example, if someone had an injured spine 8 years before the accient, but for the last 5 years has needed no treatment at all, then the history will not be overly problematic.  On the other hand, if the claimant’s history and treatment is very recent from the date of the accident, while the claimant still technically may have a claim, without clear evidence of new injuries it can be difficult for a jury to determine exactly what was preexisting and what was caused by the accident.  Every case is different, so these are just general observations and should not be taken as legal advice.

Finally, if a client with aggravated preexisting injuries has a case that goes to a jury trial, there is a “Florida Standard Jury Instruction” that I am pasting below, and will be read to the jury.  I have used this instruction on more than one occasion during a personal injury auto accident jury trial.

501.5  OTHER CONTRIBUTING CAUSES OF DAMAGES

a. Aggravation or activation of disease or defect:

If you find that the (defendant(s)) caused a bodily injury, and that the injury resulted in [an aggravation of an existing disease or physical defect] [or] [activation of a latent disease or physical defect], you should attempt to decide what portion of (claimant’s) condition resulted from the [aggravation] [or] [activation]. If you can make that determination, then you should award only those damages resulting from the [aggravation] [or] [activation]. However, if you cannot make that determination, or if it cannot be said that the condition would have existed apart from the injury, then you should award damages for the entire condition suffered by (claimant).

 If you have aggravated a preexisting medical condition in an automobile accident,  then my office offers free consultations for such circumstances.  I have represented many injured persons involved in accidents in New Port Richey (and all of Pasco County), as well as throughout the Tampa Bay area of Florida.  In fact, I have represented persons injured in automobile accidents (and other negligence claims) as far north as the Florida Panhandle, and as far south as the Florida Keys.  I would be happy to review your claim without charge, and give you an opinion that is specific to your case.  Feel free to fill out the form below, contact me at scott@suncoastlaw.com, or simply call my office at 727-848-8892.