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Pre-Existing Injuries: What They Are and How They Can Affect Your Case

By Burg Simpson

pre-existing injury personal injury lawyers

December 30, 2019   Ohio Personal Injury

What is a pre-existing injury?

If you have been injured in an accident, the existence of a pre-existing injury can have a serious effect on your legal claims. As the name would suggest, a pre-existing injury is one that existed before the accident or injury in question. For example:

In April 2019, James fell off a ladder and broke his right leg. In May 2019, he was hit by a negligent driver while crossing the street on crutches, resulting in his left leg being broken.

In the above example, James’ broken right leg was a pre-existing injury.  In both Ohio and Kentucky, the law is clear: one who negligently injures another is responsible for the injuries he or she causes. Therefore, in the scenario above, the at-fault driver would be liable for James’ broken left leg, but not the right leg because that was already broken, i.e., it was a pre-existing injury.

How does a pre-existing injury affect my personal injury case?

There are two oddly named legal doctrines that explain how a pre-existing conditions are treated in a personal injury case: the eggshell skull doctrine and the crumbling skull doctrine.

  1. The eggshell skull doctrine.

The eggshell skull doctrine provides that one who negligently injures another is responsible for all injuries he or she causes, even if those injuries are far worse than one would ordinarily anticipate due to a medical or other condition. For example:

Jane has a condition that caused her skull bones to be very thin. James negligently causes Jane to fall and hit her head. The impact of the fall caused Jane’s skull to break, and she died as a result

In this scenario, Jane’s thin-skull or “eggshell skull” condition is a pre-existing condition. Regardless, Jane would not have died had it not been for James’ negligent conduct, so he is liable for her death.

Despite the name, the eggshell skull doctrine applies to any condition that makes a person more susceptible to injury, not just to people with thin skulls. For example:

Fred was operating a machine that was negligently repaired by Joe. Due to Joe’s negligent repair, the machine cut Fred’s right ankle to the bone.  Fred initially was treated with several stiches; however, due to Fred’s severe diabetes, the wound was slow to heal. After a while, the wound became very infected, requiring Fred’s lower right leg to be amputated.

In this scenario, Joe is liable for all of Fred’s injuries, including the amputation, because Joe’s negligent repair caused all of Fred’s injuries.

  1. The crumbling skull doctrine.

The crumbling skull doctrine provides that one who negligently injures another is responsible for only the injuries he or she causes. For example:

John has a back condition that causes him pain in his lower back. While John was driving his car, another driver, Tim, negligently ran into John. After the accident, John experienced increased back pain. It was later discovered that John’s back condition had worsened due to the car accident.

In this scenario, Tim is only responsible for the increased pain and worsening of Tim’s back condition, not the underlying back condition as it was prior to the car accident. This is because Tim did not cause the original back condition, i.e., that was a pre-existing condition. Tim only caused the worsening of that condition, and therefore that is all that he can be held liable for.

The eggshell skull and crumbling skull doctrines are just different ways to state the common sense notion that a wrongdoer is only responsible for the consequences of his or her own wrongdoing. The problem is that, in cases that implicate the crumbling skull doctrine, it can be difficult to determine what limitations and issues are due to the pre-existing condition and what limitations and issues are due to the accident.

How do I prove that my injuries are not due to a pre-existing injury?

Since the wrongdoer is only liable for the injuries he or she caused, it is crucial for a person with a pre-existing injury to be able to prove that the subsequent accident caused an additional injury and/or made the pre-existing condition worse in order to be able to recover.  Luckily, your medical records will usually provide that proof, which is one reason why it is very important to seek medical treatment if you have been injured. For instructions on how you can obtain a copy of your medical records, click here.

Other information that shows your condition before the accident and after the accident can also be helpful, such as before and after pictures and video.

How can a personal injury lawyer help a person with pre-existing conditions?

An experienced personal injury attorney will be able to identify and obtain the medical records and other information necessary to prove the full extent of your injuries. Additionally, a personal injury lawyer will be able to advise you as to how your pre-existing condition affects your case and what steps can be taken so that you can get the compensation that you deserve.

If you or a loved one has been seriously injured in an accident, contact our Cincinnati attorneys today. Our dynamic team of personal injury lawyers have helped those injured in Ohio, Kentucky, and across the nation. They can help you too! Call the attorneys in Burg Simpson’s Cincinnati, Ohio office at 513-852-5600 or fill out our free case evaluation form now to discuss your case with us.

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