Few claimants are in perfect health at the time of an accident. Whether the claimant has been dealing with a long-term degenerative condition, an illness, or a prior injury that is substantially similar to the one suffered in the accident at-issue, the bodily status of the claimant can vary wildly from case-to-case.
If you have been injured due to the fault of another, you may be entitled to recover damages pursuant to Alabama law. Pre-existing injuries and conditions can have a significant effect on the outcome of your lawsuit, however, so it’s important that you work with an experienced Alabama personal injury attorney who has a track record of success in obtaining favorable results for claimants with pre-existing injuries.
As a general rule of tort law, in Alabama and elsewhere, the defendant — the individual or entity responsible for your injuries — is required to “take the plaintiff as they find them.” This is known as the eggshell skull rule. Essentially, the risk of encountering a particularly sensitive or physically-weakened plaintiff (whose damages may be excessive compared to the average person) must be absorbed by the defendant.
For example, imagine that you have a condition that makes your bones much more likely to fracture in an impact. Now, suppose that the defendant-driver collides with your vehicle at relatively low speeds. As a result, you suffer serious fractures. Despite the fact that your injuries are excessive in comparison to the average victim, the defendant may be held liable for your damages — according to the eggshell skull rule, they must take you as they find you.
Pre-existing injuries and conditions can negatively effect your ability to recover, too. Bear in mind that a fundamental element of an injury claim is causation. To recover damages in Alabama, you must not only show that the defendant acted negligently, recklessly, or intentionally, but you must also show that such acts actually caused your injuries.
In most cases where the plaintiff has been suffering from a closely-related pre-existing injury or condition, the defendant will attempt to absolve themselves of liability by arguing that there was no new and distinct injury. If the defendant can show that no new, distinct injury was created, then they can prove that — even if they acted negligently, recklessly, or intentionally — they did not actually cause your injuries.
Suppose, for example, that you are injured in a slip-and-fall scenario on the defendant’s broken staircase. You suffered serious leg injuries that limit your mobility and cause consistent pain. Prior to the accident, you were already recovering from a previous leg injury with substantially similar symptoms. The defendant will almost certainly argue — by comparing the medical records — that the symptoms and nature of the injury are the same (before and after), and that they are therefore not responsible for the injury and any damages flowing from such injury.
In many cases, your success will hinge on whether you can show that your pre-existing injury or condition is distinct from the new injury. This will require extensive medical records and expert testimony attesting to the distinct nature of your pre-accident and post-accident injuries.
Importantly, however, you may still be able to recover damages in cases where the injuries are not distinct from one another, so long as your pre-existing injury or condition has been exacerbated (in other words: aggravated) as a result of the defendant’s negligent, reckless, or intentional conduct. Exacerbation of a pre-existing injury entitles you to recover damages for any and all losses flowing from the difference between the worsened injury and the pre-existing injury.
Let’s return to the leg injury example. Suppose that the slip-and-fall accident caused aggravation of your pre-existing leg injury to the degree where you are suffering from increased pain and more limited mobility. Whereas before your pain level may have been at a two (on a scale of one to ten), and you were able to move around normally for a few hours at a time, your post-accident pain levels are at a seven (on a scale of one to ten), and you cannot move around normally for more than an hour at a time, maximum. Depending on the effect of this aggravation on your ability to work and live as you did prior to the accident, you will be entitled to recover damages.
If you have questions or concerns about your case, please contact us as soon as possible.