Prior injuries, often referred to as, pre-existing conditions, are an important component of a personal injury lawsuit. Yet, not every client realizes what role they play in helping to determine the full extent of their injuries.
If you have been injured in a car accident, for example, you must tell your attorney about all of your injuries and medical conditions. You must also disclose the ones you suffered before the accident.
If you have been injured as a result of negligence, and are suing for damages, here’s why your prior injuries play a vital role in your lawsuit.
What are Pre-existing Conditions?
Pre-existing conditions are health conditions or injuries that you had before your accident. Health conditions can refer to common ailments such as arthritis, muscle aches and joint pain.
Previous injuries can also be considered pre-existing conditions. For example, you may have injured your back by lifting too much at your job, or you have hereditary osteoporosis. Mental illnesses such as anxiety or depression would also fall under this category.
Although you may think your conditions are not relevant to your accident, most likely they are for a few reasons.
How Pre-existing Conditions Relate to Accidents
There are a few reasons why pre-existing conditions are relevant to your personal injury case. The first reason, is that negligence cases, such as car accidents or work-related falls, can aggravate your pre-existing conditions such as arthritis or joint pain. For example, if you suffered a neck injury in a car crash, the force of the impact may have reinjured a previously herniated disc you hurt by lifting heavy objects.
The second reason that prior injuries are relevant to a negligence case is that most insurance companies will request previous medical records. If the insurance company finds that a previous injury existed, the insurance company may claim that the injury was not caused by the accident. Instead, the insurance company will say it was a prior injury or pre-existing condition. To continue the example above, the insurance company may claim that the injured disk was not caused by the car accident, and was instead an issue that you were already dealing with. If the insurance company is successful with their argument, they are not required to cover your medical expenses which can cost you thousands of dollars.
You do not, however, have to accept the insurance adjuster’s argument. An attorney can argue that the prior injury was aggravated by the accident. However, to make this argument, your attorney must first know about the injury. That is why you must disclose all information about previous injuries or pre-existing conditions to your lawyer.
If you are not forthcoming about your medical history, a prior injury can lower the dollar amount of a potential settlement or lose the case altogether.
What You Should Do If You Are In An Accident
If you have a prior injury, there are some things you can do to help your case. Immediately following the accident, tell the medical providers about all of the symptoms that you are experiencing.
For new injuries, you will want to have medical providers document symptoms and conditions like significant pain, limited mobility, and psychological responses such as fear and panic resulting from the trauma experienced in the accident. Make sure you tell them that the accident triggered the symptoms.
For pre-existing conditions, ask your doctor to provide documentation about your treatment and the date you finished treatment. For example, if you saw a physical therapist two years ago for six months to treat lower back pain, that would mean that you completed treatment a year and a half ago. These records will be important and you will want to get those records from your doctor. You will want to show that the injury was successfully treated in the past and that the accident is responsible for your current symptoms.
Things To Watch Out For In Your Case
If you have been involved in an accident, you need to be aware of a few things.
You must be careful about talking to the defendant’s insurance company without consulting a lawyer first. Do not provide recorded statements or sign any medical releases. If you are sent medical releases or any documents requiring your signature, ask your attorney and only sign documents that your lawyer approves.
The reason you should be careful about talking to the insurance company, is that insurance adjusters can purposefully make the claim process difficult and keep clients from obtaining settlements. They are tasked with finding ways to keep costs down and limiting the information that you give them can improve your chances for a strong claim.
If you are feeling overwhelmed or sense that the process may be out of your depth, talk to a personal injury attorney. Tell them about all of your prior conditions and the circumstances of the accident. As individuals who spend their entire career handling personal injury cases, attorneys are very familiar with the process and know how best to present information to either the insurance adjustor or even a judge, should your case go to court.