Before being injured in an accident, not everybody is a perfect picture of health. When a person suffers an injury to the same part of their body that was injured in the past, an issue arises as to the effect of that pre-existing condition on any compensation that the claimant might receive. The general rule is that a person isn’t allowed to be compensated for any pre-existing conditions that weren’t affected by their accident, but that claimant is allowed to seek compensation for a pre-existing condition to the extent that it was made worse by the accident. California Civil Jury Instruction 3927 sheds some light on this rule. It states that a claimant “is not entitled to damages for any physical or emotional condition that he/she had before defendant’s conduct occurred. However, if plaintiff had a physical or emotional condition that was made worse by defendant’s wrongful conduct, you must award damages that will reasonably and fairly compensate him/her for the effect on that condition.” In that context, a wide range of damages are available for the victims who aggravated pre-existing conditions.
Was the Pre-Existing Condition Symptomatic?
What’s important in the context of pre-existing conditions is to determine the nature and extent of that condition both before and after an accident. A victim’s attorney may try to minimize pain, discomfort or other physical issues that a pre-exiting caused a client before the accident, while the insurance defense attorney may allege that everything that the victim is presently complaining about is a result of that old condition. How that old condition might have affected the claimant’s life before the present accident is pivotal on the damages issue. Some pre-existing conditions might never be an issue with certain claimants because the claimants were asymptomatic before their accident. Then the condition manifests itself with pain and discomfort after a traumatic impact. Some of those conditions include:
- Degenerative disc disease
- Spinal stenosis
Pre-existing conditions can be found anywhere in the body, and they can become painful for life after one single hard impact. If indeed that pre-existing condition was asymptomatic, and the claimant wasn’t suffering any pain or discomfort at all from it before the accident, shouldn’t the symptoms that manifested themselves after this accident be linked directly to it?
The Man with the Eggshell Skull
Just about every law school in the United States teaches the story of the man with the eggshell skull. The bottom line with this pre-existing condition tort theory is that if somebody is injured as a result of the carelessness and negligence of somebody else, the person who caused the accident is still liable for damages, even if the eggshell skull man’s damages were worse than those that an ordinary person might suffer.
The man with the eggshell skull might be classified as an unusually susceptible claimant, but serious physical trauma might cause more severe injuries to a person like that than an ordinary person.