Do pre-existing injuries matter in a lawsuit?

Often, when a person is injured in a car collision or from a slip and fall or by a doctor’s malpractice, the reality is they were not in perfect health before they were hurt by another’s negligence. Maybe they had prior injuries or a health condition that was already affecting their lives. As you can imagine, those prior injuries or health conditions become the focus of the negligent person and their lawyer. They try to excuse their negligence with the injured person’s preexisting conditions. It is frustrating, but there is hope.

The key is to put the prior injury or health condition in perspective for the jury. To make it part of your story. Sometimes, the prior injury or health condition can be to your advantage.

We have run into several types of negligence cases where our client, the injured person, came into the accident with a preexisting condition. One type of case involves the remote injury or the irrelevant health condition. For example, you break your right leg because you slip and fall on water in a grocery store and the store finds out about your right knee surgery fifteen years ago. The store’s lawyer then blames the fall on your right knee and says your right leg was not really hurt because you already had problems with your right leg. The problem is the right knee surgery was so long ago and there are no medical records reflecting recurring knee problems after the surgery. Once those facts are made known to the jury and the prior right knee problem is put in perspective, the store and its lawyer start looking pretty silly.

Another type of case is where our client has a prior injury or condition which is made worse by the accident. For example, a person with a history of surgical fusion of their neck bones is violently rear-ended by another driver at a red traffic light. The medical reality is that people with fused vertebral bones are vulnerable to additional injuries to the bones, muscles and ligaments around the fusion. That is because the fusion takes away some of the neck’s natural mobility and ability to sustain the forces of trauma, so that when such forces are experienced the bones, muscles and ligaments around the fusion undergo extraordinary strain and stress. There is then an overlay of strained and sprained muscles and ligaments, fractured bones, or nerve injuries. These cases often involve a neck without symptoms or with minimal symptoms between the time of the fusion surgery and the accident. The accident consequently makes the neck painfully symptomatic again. The perspective in such a case is that the doctors fixed our clients neck when they performed the fusion surgery and the negligent driver took away the benefits of the surgery, leaving our client with a sick neck again. The law does not let others off the hook for their negligence just because the injured person had a neck that was vulnerable to more injury than the average person. People are responsible for ALL the consequences of their negligence, whether those consequences are expected or are a surprise.

Yet another type of case is where our client has a disabling health condition which impairs their ability to move around. The law provides a whole host of protections to persons with disabilities in our society. The Americans with Disabilities Act is just one. That law requires businesses that are open to the public to take certain measures to make their property accessible to disabled persons. Entrances have to be easy for a wheelchair to traverse, bathrooms have to be bigger and equipped with materials that help the disabled safely use the facilities, floors have to be free of obstructions, etc. We, as a society, want people with disabilities to be fully participate in all the things we enjoy. Therefore, when a disabled person is injured because a business is not accessible to them, the business is responsible for their injuries. The perspective that often is found in these cases is that the business is not sensitive to the needs of others, is selective with who they serve or invite in their business and spend money on so many other property enhancements, never paying concern to their disabled customers.

At the St. Joseph, MO Injury Law Firm of Taylor Siemens, we have had a lot of success handling cases for people who had preexisting conditions before they were hurt by another’s negligence. We would like to meet with you to discuss your case. We offer a free consultation. Call us at (816) 364-6677.