As we get older, many of us will be diagnosed with a physical or mental health condition — or perhaps you already have a diagnosis. Managing that condition may be relatively straightforward on a day-to-day basis. But what happens if you are in a car accident that makes your pre-existing condition even worse?
If the other driver was responsible for the crash, you will be able to recover financial compensation for your injuries. While you cannot get money for a condition that you had before the accident, to the extent that the collision aggravated your condition, you can recover. This is because of a basic legal principle, known as the eggshell plaintiff rule, that holds that the at-fault party in a personal injury case has to take their victim as they find them.
If you have been hurt in a car accident, a skilled Bay Area car accident attorney can work with you to help you get the best possible outcome from your case. Using medical records and other evidence, your lawyer can prove that your pre-existing condition was made worse by the accident.
What Is a Pre-Existing Condition?
If you follow politics or simply have had a dispute with your health insurance company, you have probably heard the term “pre-existing condition.” In its simplest terms, a pre-existing condition is any type of illness or injury that a person before something else happens, such as purchasing an insurance policy or getting into a car accident. It may include physical as well as mental health diagnoses.
A person may have one or more pre-existing conditions. Common examples include hypertension, migraines, depression, anxiety, herniated discs, arthritis, and diabetes. These and other health issues may be affected by injuries suffered in a car accident.
Pre-existing conditions are usually documented through medical records. The at-fault driver, known as the defendant, will learn about the injured party (plaintiff)’s pre-existing conditions during discovery. This is a period of time before trial when each party in the case exchanges information that may be relevant. If you have been in a car accident, the defendant’s car insurance company will almost certainly request copies of your medical records.
These requests may seem like an invasion of privacy. The defendant does have a right to make sure that you are only claiming injuries caused by the accident — which is the purpose of making this request. Trying to hide these medical records or the existence of a pre-existing condition will only hurt your case by making you appear dishonest.
More importantly, there is no need to hide your pre-existing conditions from the defendant. Under California’s “eggshell plaintiff” rule, the defendant is responsible for all of your injuries — even those that were made worse because you had a pre-existing condition.
Understanding the “Eggshell Plaintiff” Rule
We all know how delicate the shells of eggs are. The fragile nature of eggshells is the basis for a term used to describe accident victims who have a pre-existing condition that makes them more susceptible to injury: eggshell plaintiffs.
The “eggshell plaintiff” rule originates from a 1901 British case where a person with a particularly thin skull died in an accident. A person with a skull of normal thickness would have just suffered a bump on the head in a similar accident. The court found that the defendant in the case was fully liable for the death of the plaintiff — even though he had an “eggshell skull.” Other court decisions reached similar conclusions: a defendant is responsible for all injuries suffered by a plaintiff in a personal injury case, even if those injuries were made worse by the plaintiff’s pre-existing condition.
In California, the eggshell plaintiff rule holds that defendants in personal injury cases take the plaintiff as they find them. For this reason, a defendant cannot argue that they are not responsible for any injuries that may not have occurred if the plaintiff did not have a pre-existing condition.
The way that this rule works is relatively straightforward. Consider a situation where Evan ran through a red light, hitting Molly’s vehicle. Molly has osteoporosis or brittle bones. She suffered multiple fractures in the car accident, requiring months of hospitalization to recover. If she didn’t have osteoporosis, she may have walked away from the crash with a few bruises. Under the eggshell plaintiff rule, Evan doesn’t have to pay for Molly’s underlying osteoporosis condition — but he is responsible for all of the injuries that she suffered in the crash.
This rule is applied in California through a jury instruction, which a judge reads to the jury before the start their deliberations in a personal injury case. The instruction states that although an accident victim is not entitled to compensation for any physical or emotional condition that they had before the crash if that condition was made worse by the accident, they are entitled to compensation to the extent that their condition was aggravated.
How Insurance Companies May Try to Use Pre-Existing Conditions Against You
Insurance companies use a number of tactics to avoid liability for accidents caused by their policyholders. One way that they may try to do this is by claiming that your injuries weren’t actually caused by the crash, but were something that you were diagnosed with beforehand.
Without a lawyer, you may believe that you don’t have any option other than accepting the insurance company’s conclusion. An experienced car accident attorney can push back on these arguments, using medical records, expert witness testimony, and case law. While the at-fault driver cannot be held responsible for an injury or condition that you had before the accident, if that condition was made worse because of the accident, they are liable for that amount.
For example, you may have had multiple knee surgeries over the years after playing sports throughout your life. An MRI or x-ray may show the progression of osteoarthritis in your knees or other damage done to your knees. If your knees are affected by a motor vehicle accident (such as by slamming into the dashboard in a rear-end accident), then an x-ray or MRI taken after the crash can be compared to earlier tests to show how much worse your knees are because of the collision.
Of course, the other driver is not financially responsible for a health condition that you had prior to the accident, but they will be liable for any additional injuries or damage caused by the accident. If you were diagnosed with anxiety several years before the wreck, the defendant won’t be made to pay for your regular, ongoing therapy, doctor’s visits, or medication. However, if the accident spiked your anxiety increased to the point that you have difficulty functioning in day-to-day life, requiring you to take a leave from work as a result, then the defendant may be responsible for those losses.
Interested in Learning More? Reach Out Today.
Any type of car accident can lead to devastating injuries. If you have a pre-existing condition, you may find yourself in an even worse state than you were before the crash. A compassionate Bay Area car accident attorney can help you recover for the full extent of your injuries.
At Kuvara Law Firm, we are dedicated to helping Californians who have been hurt in all types of accidents. We are aggressive advocates who will fight for your right to compensation. To learn more or to schedule a free initial consultation with a member of our team, call us at 1-800-4-INJURY or email us.