Question: I was injured in a car accident about a year ago. I went to see a doctor and had therapy. I was just recently in another wreck where I now have pain to the same parts of my body as my previous accident. Will it effect my case that I had a pre-existing condition?
Robert’s Answer: It depends. There is a difference between a “pre-existing condition” and a “previous injury.” You might have had a previous injury in which you were treated and finally released after a full recovery. Then, you might injure the same part of your body in another accident. If so, that would be considered a new injury. It would be no different than if you broke your arm and it healed, and then you broke the same arm again in another accident.
A pre-existing condition is different. Under those circumstances, you have a present and continuing condition (such as arthritis or scoliosis) which existed prior to the accident. Since this condition is not caused by the accident, you would not be entitled to recovery for these chronic pre-existing conditions. However, if you can prove that the pre-existing condition was somehow worsened or aggravated by the accident, then you are entitled to damages for the amount of the aggravation or worsening of the previous condition.
Unfortunately, insurance adjusters will use either one of these situations against you. That’s because it can be difficult for you to prove a new and distinct injury, especially if you are dealing with soft-tissue injuries. It is even more difficult to prove and aggravation of a pre-existing condition unless you have good medical proof to support this claim.
Most attorneys do not like to deal with pre-existing conditions because of the unpredictable challenges involved. However, I have sometimes used pre-existing conditions to my clients’ advantage.
For instance, let’s say you had a previous back injury and the doctor had to do surgery. In those instances, you would have MRIs and doctor’s records showing exactly what your condition was at the time. If you had a later accident, you can now compare the MRIs and medical records to see if there is a new and distinct injury. In other words, the medical treatment you received for the previous injury can provide a clear base-line to compare to a subsequent injury. This can provide some very reliable evidence in your injury case.