The auto accident lawyers at Lipkin & Apter in Chicago, IL have helped hundreds of clients injured by car, truck and motorcycle accidents. In this case, a 45 year old man was involved in a car accident clearly caused by the defendant’s negligence (the defendant ran into the back of the car while stopped at a red light.) The impact is heavy and causes severe low back pain resulting in surgery two months later. The man's diagnosis is herniated disk, likely due to degenerative arthritis. When the victim was 20 years old he injured his lower back in a fall while ice skating. He sought medical treatment, including pain medication and 4 months of physical therapy. In this auto accident case, the question arose: "Does the earlier accident or arthritis preclude recovery in the current rear-end car accident case?"
The answer is no. A basic tenet of personal injury law is that a defendant is responsible for the harm/injuries he causes. So long as it can be proven that the recent car accident caused injury, you are entitled to fair and reasonable compensation. In this case, the earlier accident/arthritis is only admissible into evidence if it contributed to the injuries claimed from the current car accident. What does “contribute” mean? Did the accident 25 years ago result in a permanent problem in this client's lower back? Was he placed under permanent activity restrictions? Did he continue receiving medical treatment for the earlier accident as of the time of the car accident? Was he still taking pain medications? Or, did he last receive medical treatment years and years earlier for the rear-end car accident?
The law makes specific allowances for aggravation of a pre-existing condition. Not only does the earlier accident and/or the arthritis not preclude recovery from the current car accident case, it is the defendant’s burden to prove a causal relationship between the earlier accident or condition and the injuries claimed in the current car accident case. Absent such proof – usually in the form of a doctor hired by the defendant to give so called expert testimony –the earlier accident or arthritic condition cannot even be mentioned.
For most people, the aging process results in arthritis of the spine, knee, ankle and/or wrist joints. Many times, you are not even aware that you have arthritis. You have never been diagnosed with it, you’ve received no treatment for it, it does not impact your work activities and it does not influence your social or recreational activities. In such a context the arthritis would be a purely incidental finding, and would neither preclude, nor even limit the compensation to which you would be entitled from the rear-end car accident case.
The basic issue here is one of fairness: A defendant should have to pay for damages that his negligence causes, but no more. That a person has a pre-existing “condition”, as in this car accident lawsuit, that in no way impacts the plaintiff's life, should not afford a negligent defendant any benefit. Correspondingly, if a person has an injury from an earlier accident or a “condition” which affects his work or social/recreational activities, it would be unfair to force a defendant to pay for injuries not caused by the defendant’s negligence. Thus, the basic inquiry is on the impact, if any, of a pre-existing condition, which alone, will not determine the value of your case.
For more information on pre-existing medical conditions and how they can influence your personal injury lawsuit, contact Lipkin & Apter in Chicago, IL. Our team of experienced attorneys looks forward to discussing your case.