Pre-existing conditions are commonly involved in personal injury claims in New York, as many adults have old injuries, medical conditions, and general aches and pains. While a pre-existing condition will not always affect your ability to recover financial compensation, it is a hurdle that you may have to overcome.
What is a Pre-Existing Condition? Is it Compensable?
In a personal injury claim, a pre-existing condition is a health problem that existed before the accident. This could be a heart condition, ligament or cartilage damage, or any other medical condition that a person developed or suffered before they were injured.
In general, you cannot recover compensation for an injury that was not caused by the accident. For example, if your leg was broken before you were involved in a car accident, you cannot be compensated for that injury. However, if the accident aggravated the injury or you suffered more severe injuries due to the condition, the defendant may be liable for damages.
New York recognizes the egg-shell skull doctrine, which states that a defendant must take a plaintiff as they find them. Under this doctrine, a defendant may be held liable in damages for the aggravation of a plaintiff’s pre-existing illness or injury. In New York specifically, a defendant is only liable for the additional harm or aggravation that he caused.
This rule is important because, in most personal injury cases, the defendant’s insurance company is responsible for paying damages. The number one goal of insurance companies is to limit the amount that they pay out in claims. They do this through very specific tactics to deny, devalue and delay paying valid claims. From the minute an insurance company is notified of an accident, they begin working to build a case against the claimant. They will investigate the scene, attempt to convince the claimant to give a recorded statement and request up to ten years of medical records. If they see something in those medical records that allows them to devalue the claim, they will jump at the opportunity.
Without an attorney, the insurance company may offer a settlement amount that is woefully inadequate to cover a claimant’s injuries or deny payment entirely. An attorney who understands that the aggregation of an existing injury is compensable can help negotiate a full and fair settlement. Having an attorney on your side, conducting your own investigation to fully document the extent of your injuries and understand how the accident aggravated any existing injuries, is vital.
If an insurer refuses to make a fair settlement offer, an attorney can take them to court knowing that the defendant cannot complain that the plaintiff’s injuries are greater than what would have been reasonably expected. At trial, defendants are prohibited from arguing that the aggravation or extent of the injury was unforeseeable because the plaintiff had a hidden vulnerability.
Speak to a Lawyer About How a Pre-Existing Condition Could Affect Your Claim
A personal injury claim in New York is already difficult enough without complications connected to a pre-existing condition or injury. If you or a loved one have been injured in a preventable accident, protect your legal rights by contacting a Buffalo personal injury attorney at Towey Law, PLLC. During a free consultation, we can review your specific case and advise you on how to proceed with the pursuit of fair financial compensation. We understand the law and how to preserve your right to recover.