If you have been injured, whether in a car accident, slip and fall, or other type of incident, the insurance company will certainly ask about prior or pre-existing injuries. If you have none, your claim is worth much more and this article is likely inapplicable to your situation. Most prior injuries do not affect a settlement, but if you have been in a previous accident with injuries to the same area of your body as the current claim, it can be expected that the insurance company will use that injury as an excuse to try and pay you less. Whether they are successful or not depends on how you and your lawyer prepare the case.
Despite the fact that you may have been injured before to the same area, these “aggravation injuries” can still be valuable and worth pursuing a claim. We see aggravation injuries most commonly to areas of the spine. For example, a client may have been in an auto accident years before. He or she may have received medical treatment by a chiropractor and been diagnosed with a disc bulge or herniation after getting an MRI. Then, the client felt no pain, did not receive treatment and was asymptomatic for a long period of time. While the prior injury is still considered permanent, it can still be aggravated or made worse if there is additional trauma. As a matter of course, your doctors and our office will analyze any prior diagnostic tests to determine whether the condition of the injury has changed. A bulge may become a herniation. A herniation may increase in size. A herniation may now indent the thecal sac or the spinal cord when it did not before. Any worsening of the injury from an MRI will automatically be considered a new injury and worth more.
But, what if the prior injury has not gotten any worse in the new MRI?
You will still be entitled to compensation for the aggravation, but certainly not as much as if the injury was new. In these situations, we are careful not to run up big medical bills, because we know that the insurance company will be resistant to pay for them.
My office recently had a case involving a low impact car accident that went to trial. The client was legitimately injured and suffered greatly, but the diagnostic testing simply did not match the minor damage to the car. Although the impact was legitimate, the only damage to the client’s car was a scratch. The insurance company found that the client had a prior accident from ten years before to the same area of the body; the neck. Although the client hadn’t received treatment for ten years and had no pain to her neck in ten years, GEICO seized on this prior complaint and wouldn’t let go. In this situation, GEICO simply refused to accept that the new accident was the cause of the injuries. GEICO hired a team of doctors and lawyers to fight the case. Our office advised that resolving the case without a trial was in the client’s best interest, but the client refused to listen. Ultimately, the client was forced into a situation where the medical bills exceeded the value of the claim due to the fact that it was a low impact accident. In the end, the client could not justify to a jury why such a low impact car accident deserved such high medical bills. The jury awarded her for some of the bills, but not for all of them. These situations are rare, but this case illustrates the risk when there is a prior accident and the new accident is considered low impact with minimal property damage. The situation would have been completely different if the new accident had caused more damage to the car.
In any event, our office is trained at identifying the risks and reward of prior or pre-existing injuries and how they affect the value of the case. We inform every client about the prospects of recovery and how much the claim is worth. While pre-existing injuries can be tricky, an experienced lawyer and open lines of communication can eliminate problems and increase the recovery on the case.