There are hundreds of thousands of Americans who are living their lives with the aftermath of some sort of injury. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control & Prevention reports about 50 million people are treated for unintentional injuries annually. Many of us heal eventually, but some will have some sort of lasting impact. When someone who has a pre-existing injury is injured again, it can complicate any subsequent legal claim. But as longtime Fort Lauderdale injury lawyers can explain, it won’t kill your case – as long as you’re working with a good attorney.
The first question is whether the accident at issue has anything at all to do with your existing injuries. If your pre-existing injury involves range-of-motion issues with your wrist but the more recent accident primarily impacted your neck and back, the old injury will probably be a non-issue for purposes of your new claim. That’s not to say it won’t come up at all. It’s important to be forthright with your medical providers as well as your lawyer, to ensure it’s all fully-documented and there are no surprises.
If the new injury does happen to involve the same area of the body where you were hurt before, the next question will be: “To what extent did the new injury exacerbate your pre-existing injury?”
Aggravation of a pre-existing injury is compensable under Florida law. This has been precedent for well over a century. (See the 1908 Florida Supreme Court case of Atlantic Coast Line R. Co. v. Dees. In that matter, the court ruled “…to recover damages for personal injuries alleged to have been caused by the negligence of the defendant, and [the plaintiff] was at the time the injuries were received suffering from some disease or illness… such [plaintiff’s] previous infirmity will not excuse the defendant from answering in damages to the full extent of injuries caused by such negligence…”)
But that doesn’t mean the defense won’t make it easy. When pre-existing injuries or illnesses are a factor in a Fort Lauderdale injury claim, the burden of proof is on the plaintiff (person who is injured) to prove by a preponderance of the evidence that the injury was either caused or aggravated by the defendant’s negligent act. This must be properly pleaded – and supported by evidence – in the special damages part of a Florida civil lawsuit. Your attorney has to clearly spell out:
- Exactly what the pre-existing condition is.
- The extent to which it impacted your life/well-being prior to the accident.
- How the new accident caused that condition to be worsened.
- The degree to which this exacerbation of your injury has degraded your physical, mental, and emotional well-being.
When there’s a pre-existing injury involved, it will not be assumed that the new accident caused it to worsen. That fact must be expressly stated and supported.
A recent case before Florida’s 5th District Court of Appeal underscored what can happen in a case with pre-existing injuries when such facts are not adequately supported by evidence. The case was State Farm v. Davis, and it involved a car accident a few years ago. The at-fault driver was not adequately insured, so plaintiff was pursuing action against her own UM/UIM auto insurance carrier.
The insurer had no issue conceding the other driver was at-fault. The problem was that the plaintiff had been seeing a chiropractor for more than a dozen years prior to the crash for neck and back issues. In the six years prior to the crash at issue, she’d visited this doctor nearly 50 times for pain in her neck and lower back. In fact, she’d seen him for this issue just a few days before the crash. ‘
In the crash, she reportedly further injured her neck and back. Her chiropractor would later testify that the injuries she suffered in the crash were not the same as what he’d been treating her for. An orthopedic surgeon to whom she was referred post-crash would later testify that she’d suffered injuries specific to the crash. Two herniated discs would require additional surgery. However, she failed to present medical expert witness testimony that her pre-existing condition had in fact been aggravated by the crash. Further, she didn’t include in her injury lawsuit complaint any claim for any special damages for aggravation of her pre-existing injuries. There was no mention at all of pre-existing conditions in her claim, so she couldn’t go back and argue that they’d been aggravated. Although she initially won her case, it was reversed on appeal for this reason and remanded for a whole new trial.
We do have sympathy for this plaintiff because she likely thought that because the same general region of the body was injured that the court would only naturally recognize that the accident made matters worse for her existing condition. But again, that can’t be assumed because it’s not necessarily the case. It has to be proven.
The takeaway here is that if you have an existing injury and are injured again by someone else’s negligence, you need to make sure your Fort Lauderdale injury lawyer is fully aware of this. Be willing to answer questions and provide medical documentation of your prior injury. While we recognize it can be painful to dredge up the past, it’s important if you want to win the case that’s pending.
Call Fort Lauderdale Injury Attorney Richard Ansara at (954) 761-4011. Serving Broward, Miami-Dade and Palm Beach counties.
State Farm v. Davis, March 25, 2022, Florida’s 5th District Court of Appeal
More Blog Entries:
How Likely is a Default Judgment in My Broward Personal Injury Claim? March 10, 2023, Fort Lauderdale Personal Injury Lawyer Blog