For many folks in US, a pre-existing condition can make it difficult to find affordable health insurance as well as live a comfortable day-to-day life. But in the wake of a car accident, a pre-existing condition may feel like a whole new burden. Those with a pre-existing condition may even wonder if it will affect how their auto accident claims are handled.
The truth of the matter is that a pre-existing condition may affect the manner and the extent to which your accident claims are honored. This is because in most situations, a liable party in an accident is not liable to pay damages for injuries they did not directly cause. But, depending on your situation, that individual may still be required to pay up if their actions aggravated or intensified a condition you were already living with.
To know precisely how your pre-existing condition may affect your auto accident claims, you should contact a trusted auto accident lawyer in your area. If you call Philadelphia, PA, home, then that means you should call up the Law Offices of Joel J. Kofsky. Their team of skilled personal injury attorneys will help you plan a legal strategy that takes into account your unique status as an accident victim.
What is a Pre-Existing Condition?
First and foremost, you should understand how the law generally defines a “pre-existing condition” in the context of auto accident litigation and liability. In most situations, a pre-existing condition refers to any health condition that was known to or recognized by the victim prior to the accident occurring. This can include a temporary injury (such as broken bone) or a chronic condition (such as joint pain or periodic migraines).
While the law is fairly clear on this matter, it is less precise when it comes to documentation for a pre-existing condition. To that end, there are varying interpretations about whether any medical record or diagnosis must exist before a pre-existing condition can be certified.
This lack of clarity can be both beneficial and harmful to an auto accident victim. On one hand, this means that they may be able to claim damages for a worsened pre-existing condition without a formal diagnosis from a certified medical professional. However, on the other hand, an insurance provider could also claim that an injury sustained in the accident was pre-existing but lacked documentation. That rationale could then be used to deny benefits to you, the victim.
Common Pre-Existing Condition Examples
In theory, a whole host of medical conditions could come into play in the wake of an auto accident. However, certain common pre-existing conditions tend to come up more often because they are more likely to be exacerbated by a car crash. One example is a neck or back injury, which can flair up severely after the impact of a crash. Another may be a recently healed joint injury, which can be re-injured when an arm or leg is crushed in a crash.
There are also some less obvious personal injuries which may constitute a pre-existing condition in these circumstances. For example, a driver with a history of concussions may be able to claim any number of new neurological injuries as accident-related. Along the same lines, even a temporary injury (such as a bone fracture or sprain) could be construed as a pre-existing condition if their healing was slowed or delayed by the accident in question.
Can a Pre-Existing Condition Affect my Auto Accident Claim?
Simply put, yes. You can expect the presence of (or even the perception of) a pre-existing condition to affect how your auto accident claims are handled. This is the case even in a single-car accident. This is because your insurance provider may attempt to deny your claims for medical benefits if they relate to your pre-existing condition. In that case, you may not be able to recover the costs of your injuries given that you were likely at-fault in that single-car crash.
However, even in an accident where more than one car is involved, an opposing insurance provider may attempt to deny your injury payment claims on the grounds that their client did not cause the original condition. Generally speaking, this standard is applicable when it comes to most accident-related injuries. However, you may still be able to obtain compensation by demonstrating that the accident in question made your pre-existing condition worse.
To do this, you’ll likely have to disclose your pre-existing condition in a lawsuit and support it with appropriate medical records from both before and after the accident. Your accident lawyer will then have to demonstrate how your condition was made worse by the accident and no other extenuating factor.
If you are successful on this front, the other party’s insurance may be required to pay out for any additional treatment you receive. However, they will not be obliged to pay for treatment you are already receiving for your pre-existing condition. For example, if you had a back brace prior to the crash, the at-fault driver’s insurance would not need to pay to have it replaced. However, if you need physical therapy post-crash, that would need to be paid for in full.
When and How should I Disclose a Pre-Existing Condition?
As noted, you may be required to disclose your pre-existing condition during the course of litigation relating to a car accident. This may be done in an attempt to demonstrate your need for compensation due to the worsening of that condition in the wake of your crash. However, car accident victims should be careful about how they disclose this information because it can be used against them in some situations.
To start off with, you should always disclose any pre-existing conditions to your auto accident attorney. It is their job to represent you in court and they cannot do that successfully unless they understand the full situation surrounding your case. So, if your personal injury attorney requests your medical records, be sure to provide them in full.
However, on the reverse side, you should be very hesitant about who else you disclose your written medical records or even your oral medical history to. This is because a single careless disclosure of this nature could break your claim.
For example, when giving a deposition, admitting a previously undisclosed pre-existing condition to an opposing legal team may give them evidence to use against you in court. Even alluding to a pre-existing condition (such as mentioning your “creaky joints” or “stiff back”) could be enough to make it appear that your injury was not the opposing driver’s fault.
Similarly, during the discovering phase of an auto accident liability lawsuit, an opposing injury lawyer may request some or all of your medical records. Be wary of these requests and any release forms that may come with them. This may be an attempt by that lawyer to find minute details that would allow them to deny your claim. Always check with your personal injury attorney before signing any document of this nature.
“Egg Shell” Doctrines and You
While speaking with a personal injury lawyer, you may have heard mention of a so-called “eggshell” doctrine in personal injury and accident law. This doctrine may apply to your case if you are considered more medically “fragile” than most individuals as a result of one or more pre-existing conditions. Moreover, this doctrine may trump any claim made by an opposing party that they should not be obliged to pay because you, the victim, were more prone to injury prior to the accident.
There is one noteworthy condition that applies to any claims under the “eggshell” doctrine. In order for a pre-existing condition to apply, it must have been considered “stable” at the time the accident occurred. This can be challenging to claim through just testimony alone. If you choose to pursue a legal strategy under this doctrine, you’ll likely need to demonstrate your condition’s stability through medical records.
Here in Pennsylvania, legal precedent dictates that one must “take your victim as you found them.” In other words, an individual is entitled to compensation for injuries that they did not cause, even if those injuries are connected to or were otherwise intensified by a set of pre-existing conditions. As a result, accident victims are more able to assert their rights to compensation without fear of their pre-existing condition disclosure harming their claim.
A Plan of Action
If you’ve recently experienced an auto accident, chances are that you’re still a bit shaken up about the whole matter. In fact, you may be living with pain from a pre-existing condition that was worsened by your recent crash. There’s no reason to live like that, even if you’re afraid that your pre-existing condition will prevent you from earning your rightful compensation.
If this situation feels familiar to you, then it is time for you to call the Law Offices of Joel J. Kofsky. Our team of seasoned personal injury lawyers has what it takes to protect your rights as a victim, regardless of your circumstances. We can also answer all of your questions about how pre-existing conditions affect auto accident claims in the first place. Call us today at 215 735 4800 to learn why we are the preferred accident victim legal firm in all of Philadelphia, PA.