Can a Pre-Existing Injury Affect My Personal Injury Settlement?

Many personal injury claims are handled as if the victim was in perfect physical condition at the time of the accident. In reality, it is common for accident victims to have existing injuries and medical conditions at the time of the accident. If your personal injury case in Nevada involves a pre-existing injury, this may impact how an insurance company handles your claim. Protect yourself by learning how to handle this type of case – and when to contact an attorney for assistance.

What Is a Pre-Existing Injury?

In personal injury law, a pre-existing injury can refer to any bodily injury or medical condition an accident victim had prior to an accident. It can refer to old injuries that have already healed, such as old broken bones, as well as injuries the victim still had at the time of the accident. Examples include bone fractures, muscle strains and sprains, knee injuries, ligament damage, back and spine injuries, neck pain, and organ damage.

Pre-existing conditions also encompass medical conditions that may either be exacerbated by the accident or increase the severity of injuries caused by the accident. Degenerative disk disease, for example, could weaken a victim’s spinal column and result in more serious back and spine injuries. Common examples include diabetes, high blood pressure, cancer, sleep apnea, lupus and pregnancy.

Can an Insurance Company Deny My Claim Because of a Pre-Existing Injury?

The short answer to this question is no. An insurance company cannot deny your claim based on a pre-existing injury alone. However, if you are seeking financial compensation solely for an injury that you had prior to the accident – an injury that was in no way affected by the accident – your claim will be denied. You or your Las Vegas personal injury lawyer must show a connection between the accident and the injuries involved in your claim.

If you had a condition or injury prior to the accident, your goal is to establish the degree to which the accident exacerbated these existing health problems. The insurance company will most likely try to blame 100 percent of your current injuries on a pre-existing problem found in your medical records – even if the two are completely unrelated. This is a common tactic used by insurance companies to save money on claim payouts.

A plaintiff’s legal theory referred to as the eggshell skull rule states that a defendant has to take a person as he or she is at the time of the accident. This includes with a pre-existing injury or medical condition that makes the victim more vulnerable to injury (such as a skull as thin as an eggshell). An insurance company cannot deny coverage based on a pre-existing injury alone. It is important, however, to correctly handle this type of claim. Otherwise, you could end up with less compensation than you deserve.

The Importance of Documenting Your Injuries

It is crucial during any personal injury claim to document your injuries in detail. Your injuries will be a focal point for the insurance investigation. Adequately documenting the injuries you suffered can help you prove that they exist and establish their severity for insurance purposes. If you wish to file a claim as an individual with a pre-existing injury or medical condition, it is even more important to properly document your injuries.

Contact your doctor and request copies of all medical records and documents that are relevant to your personal injury claim. This includes records associated with your current injury as well as past records documenting a pre-existing injury. Include any medical test results, x-rays, doctor’s or nurse’s notes, prescription medications, and communications between you and your medical team. 

You should also document your injuries on your own by keeping an injury journal. An injury journal should contain descriptions of how you are feeling day-to-day. This includes how you feel physically, mentally and emotionally. An injury journal can help you quantify the damages you have suffered because of the incident – particularly, pain and suffering. It can also provide a timeline of your recovery process.

How Compensation Is Affected by Pre-Existing Injuries 

How a plaintiff’s personal injury settlement or judgment award is affected – if at all – by pre-existing injuries will depend on the circumstances. If your pre-existing injury and the current injury you are including on your claim are not connected and do not affect each other in any way, your pre-existing injury should not affect the value of your case.

However, if a new injury aggravates a pre-existing condition, you could receive compensation for the level of exacerbation but not for the underlying condition. Compensation may be apportioned based on the damages attributable to the pre-existing condition versus the new injury. Determining the extent to which the current injury worsened the pre-existing condition may require medical evidence and expert testimony.

Types of Compensation You May Be Eligible to Recover 

In a personal injury claim that involves a pre-existing injury, you may still be able to recover financial compensation for several economic and noneconomic damages. Economic damages refer to the financial losses associated with the accident and injury, while noneconomic damages describe the personal or intangible losses you have suffered, such as the impact the injury has had on your daily life.

Examples of compensation you may be eligible to recover include:

  • Past and future related medical care
  • Losses of wages, future earnings and employment benefits
  • Additional pain, suffering or emotional distress caused by the current injury
  • Loss of enjoyment or quality of life
  • Long-term disability, disfigurement or impairment
  • Loss of consortium
  • Property damage
  • Punitive damages, in rare cases

Working with an experienced personal injury lawyer can increase your chances of securing maximum financial compensation for your losses. Your attorney can negotiate a settlement with an insurance company using aggressive legal strategies. Although most personal injury cases in Nevada reach settlements, your lawyer will also be able to take your case to trial. This may be necessary if an insurance company wrongfully rejects your claim due to a pre-existing injury.

How to Handle a Personal Injury Case Involving a Pre-Existing Condition

If your personal injury case involves an old or pre-existing injury in Nevada, you must disclose this injury to the insurance company during your claim. Do not attempt to conceal or hide this information, as this could give the insurance company a reason to deny coverage due to a misrepresentation of fact on your part. Notify the insurer about your pre-existing injury and provide any relevant medical documents and records.

Do not, however, sign a medical authorization release form sent to you by the insurance company. These forms often contain blanket authorizations, meaning the insurer would have full access to all of your medical records – not just those that are relevant to your claim. This could result in the insurer finding old injuries that have nothing to do with your claim and using them to deny coverage.

Contact a personal injury lawyer to assist you with the recovery process as an accident victim with pre-existing injuries. An accident lawyer in Las Vegas can help you establish a causal relationship between the accident (and the defendant’s negligence) and the exacerbation of an old injury. An attorney will help you navigate this complex type of claim to protect your financial recovery as much as possible.