In a great many personal injury situations, the plaintiff does not come to the case free of illness and enjoying the benefits of flawless overall health. Particularly with older plaintiffs, there are often pre-existing conditions that are worsened – or latent conditions that are made visible – following an accident.
As a general rule, plaintiffs suffering from pre-existing conditions need not worry that their personal injury claim will be de-legitimized due to the existence of a prior condition.
In Florida, a plaintiff with a pre-existing condition is not prevented from asserting a personal injury claim. Such plaintiffs are empowered by law to sue, and in fact, the worsening of a pre-existing condition (or the awakening of a latent condition) may provide the basis for the suit altogether!
In Florida, though a pre-existing condition will not necessarily destroy your personal injury claim, there are circumstances under which pre-existing conditions can actually lower the value of your personal injury claim (and could in fact undermine the entire claim). It’s therefore important to understand the law surrounding pre-existing conditions and how a defendant may use your health background to hurt your claim.
How a Pre-Existing Condition Relates to a Present Injury
The existence of a prior condition does not affect the defendant’s liability unless the prior condition is precisely the same as the “new” condition. Defendants are essentially required to accept the risks of some plaintiffs simply being more fragile than others.
When a person’s pre-existing condition has been permanently aggravated, the injured person suffers permanent damages or changes to the normal course of an ailment or condition. The permanent aggravation of that condition causes damage that will never be fully reversed or healed, and therefore never return to their health status before the injury. Often, a doctor will wait to make the determination that an aggravation is temporary or permanent, once the person has reached his or her “maximum medical improvement,” at which time his or her activities of daily living (ADL) will not progress further in year, with or without the help of medical treatment.
For example, suppose that the plaintiff has a rare “brittle bone” condition that makes them particularly prone to serious bone fractures in the event of a collision. The defendant is a cyclist who is illegally cycling on a busy sidewalk. He crashes into the plaintiff, who falls to the ground and fractures several bones.
The defendant is quite unlucky here – the average person would likely not have fractured so many bones due to such impact – despite the fact that the plaintiff is predisposed to bone fractures, the defendant is liable for the damages. Under Florida law, it does not matter how the body of an “average” person would have responded to the accident.
Where the lines begin to blur – and where defendants often aggressively assert arguments against the plaintiff for “no new injury” – is when the pre-existing condition is associated with the accident-caused injury.
Confused? Let’s Break it Down with an Example
Imagine that you slip-and-fall on standing water at the defendant’s retail store. You injure your knees severely as a result of the fall. Suppose, however, that you have had trouble with your knees for quite some time prior to the slip-and-fall incident. Perhaps you have already suffered some knee degradation due to age, diet, lifestyle, and genetics. You visited a doctor for several years for treatment to deal with stiffness and pain.
In this example slip-and-fall lawsuit, the defendant will likely pounce on the fact that you suffered from prior knee issues. The defendant will argue that – even if you did slip-and-fall at their retail store premises – you did not actually suffer any harm as a result. They will argue that any pain and suffering (and other concerns) flow from the pre-existing knee condition.
The key to countering a defendant’s argument here is to assert that the pre-existing condition was exacerbated or aggravated by the incident. Florida law provides for the recovery of personal injury damages based on the aggravation or activation of a prior condition.
In the above slip-and-fall example, you would have to be able to show that your prior knee issues were exacerbated/aggravated, or some new and independent knee issue was activated, as a result of the accident. So, for example, to succeed you would have to show that your condition worsened in some observable way (or that a new condition was activated) as a result.
When making a claim for exacerbation or aggravation of an existing condition, you can only assert damages related to the exacerbation itself. You cannot make a damages claim based on the pain and suffering, treatment, and other costs of your injury throughout its existence.
Pre-existing conditions can complicate and hurt your overall case without the assistance of an experience personal injury attorney. If you or someone you love has been injured as the result of someone else’s wrongful acts or omissions, seek legal guidance from a skilled Fort Lauderdale personal injury lawyer at David I. Fuchs, Injury & Accident Lawyer, P.A..