If you’ve been injured due to the careless or wrongful acts of another person, you may be wondering how a pre-existing injury can affect your personal injury claim. Understanding the nuances of this situation is essential to navigate the claims process effectively and maximize your chances of receiving fair compensation. Let’s delve deeper into the subject and shed light on the key aspects surrounding pre-existing injuries and their impact on personal injury claims.
What Is a Pre-Existing Injury?
In legal terms, a pre-existing injury refers to any injury, health condition, or illness that you had prior to the accident or incident that led to your personal injury claim. These injuries, diseases and disorders can encompass various conditions, such as previous auto accident injuries, congenital abnormalities, and chronic medical conditions. Here are some examples of pre-existing injuries:
- Healed bone fractures from a previous incident
- Past concussions or brain injuries
- Back and neck problems that existed before the accident
- Strains and sprains from prior incidents
- Ruptured or herniated disks in your spine
- Degenerative disc disease that was already present
- Arthritis or other joint conditions
- Pre-existing medical conditions like diabetes or hypertension
- Prior work-related injuries or diseases
It’s important to note that regardless of the nature of your pre-existing injury or condition, insurance companies may attempt to utilize it against you during the claims process. By being aware of their strategies, you can better prepare yourself to handle the situation and protect your rights.
How Do Insurance Companies Handle Pre-Existing Injuries?
As the claimant in a personal injury insurance claim or lawsuit, you may have a duty to disclose relevant pre-existing injuries or health conditions depending upon the types of claims filed and whether your accident case requires filing a lawsuit. While it may be tempting to conceal an injury or medical condition that affects your claim, it may harm your claim to conceal a pre-existing injury.
For example, if you file claims against your own insurance company, you have a duty to cooperate in their investigation of your claim. Your insurance company may ask about pre-existing injuries. If you deny a condition exists and they discover you were not honest, it may hurt your ability to pursue bad faith claims against your insurance company. Additionally, in litigation you must provide honest answers about your medical condition. Failure to disclose pre-existing conditions in litigation may seriously harm your case and ability to recover damages.
An experienced personal injury attorney can help you understand your obligations under an insurance policy and Colorado law to disclose pre-existing conditions. Your attorney will also make sure you do not make unnecessary disclosures of private health information or give the insurance company an opportunity to make unfair arguments about the value of your case.
Won’t the insurance company use my pre-existing injuries against me?
Insurance companies, driven by the goal of minimizing their liability, often seek ways to diminish or deny your claim. One tactic they may employ is linking your current injury, pain, or disability to your pre-existing condition rather than the accident itself. By doing so, they aim to argue that the accident did not cause additional harm or worsen your existing condition. If successful, this line of reasoning can result in the denial of your claim, leaving you without the compensation you deserve.
Under Colorado law, the amount of damages you can recover for an accident is the full extent that the accident caused your economic and non-economic damages. The insurance company or defendant is not liable for pre-existing injuries or conditions; however, they are responsible for how the accident aggravated or re-injured the pre-existing condition.
For example, let’s say you’re in a car accident and sustain a back injury. You were in a car accident years ago and also suffered a spinal injury that did not fully heal. The insurance company for the new auto accident is only responsible for new injuries caused and the extent the new accident made the existing back injury worse. The insurance company cannot discount your new injuries simply because you had a pre-existing condition but they are also not responsible for injuries occurring before the accident.
The insurance company will most likely argue pre-existing injuries make up more of your new accident injuries to deny your claim or offer as little as possible in a settlement. The carrier may insist your pre-existing injuries make you ineligible for recovery for new injuries, but Colorado law protects you from this argument under the eggshell skull rule. These are among the many reasons you should hire a personal injury attorney right away to protect you from unlawful and unreasonable settlement offers or claims denials from the insurance companies.
Understanding the Eggshell Skull Rule
Fortunately, there is a legal doctrine known as the Eggshell Skull Rule that can work in your favor if you have a pre-existing injury. This rule states that the defendant must accept the plaintiff as they were at the time of the accident, regardless of any pre-existing conditions or vulnerabilities. Essentially, it means that the defendant is responsible for the full extent of the plaintiff’s damages, even if the impact of the accident was more severe due to the pre-existing injury.
Applying the Eggshell Skull Rule in a personal injury claim means that the insurance company cannot outright deny your claim solely based on a pre-existing injury. If the accident aggravated or worsened your pre-existing injury, you are entitled to financial compensation that covers the full extent of how the accident affected your health and well-being.
Similarly, if your pre-existing condition played a role in exacerbating your injuries from the accident, you are still eligible for full compensation from the accident. The only scenario where a pre-existing injury may hinder your recovery is if you’re seeking benefits solely for an old injury unrelated to the accident.
What to Do If You Have a Pre-Existing Injury
When the insurance company becomes aware of your pre-existing injury, they will likely attempt to gather extensive information about your medical history. They may send you a Medical Authorization Request Form, which should not be signed without consulting a personal injury lawyer in Colorado. It’s crucial to seek legal advice before signing any documents provided by the insurance company, as these forms often grant the insurer unlimited access to your complete medical records.
Instead of facing the insurance company alone, it’s recommended to work with an experienced personal injury attorney. Your attorney will ensure that only relevant medical records, directly related to your current claim, are provided to the insurer. By doing so, you prevent the insurance company from using your pre-existing condition or injury as a reason to deny you the benefits you deserve.
With the guidance of an attorney, you can navigate the complexities of your case and strive for the best possible outcome, regardless of whether a pre-existing injury is involved. Their expertise will help protect your rights, ensure fair compensation, and provide you with the support needed during this challenging time. Contact our Denver law office to talk to an experienced personal injury lawyer today about your case.
FAQs for Personal Injury Claims with Pre-Existing Injuries
- Q: Can I still file a personal injury claim if I have a pre-existing injury? A: Yes, you can still file a personal injury claim if you have a pre-existing injury. However, it’s important to disclose this information to the insurance company and seek legal guidance to navigate the claims process effectively.
- Q: Will the insurance company use my pre-existing injury against me? A: Insurance companies may try to use your pre-existing injury to minimize or deny your claim. They may argue that your current injuries are not a result of the accident but rather related to your pre-existing condition. However, the Eggshell Skull Rule can protect your rights and ensure you receive compensation for the aggravation or worsening of your pre-existing injury.
- Q: Should I disclose my pre-existing injury to the insurance company? A: You should talk to a personal injury attorney before signing a medical records authorization or disclosing pre-existing medical conditions. You may have a duty to disclose under certain circumstances. Your attorney can advise you on what must be disclosed and protect your private health information from unnecessary disclosures.
- Q: Can the insurance company access my complete medical records? A: The insurance company may request access to your complete medical records, but you should consult with a personal injury lawyer before signing any documents. An attorney can help ensure that only relevant medical records directly related to your current claim are provided to the insurer. Insurance companies often request that you sign a broad authorization that gives them unlimited access to your private health information.
- Q: How can a personal injury attorney assist me with a pre-existing injury claim? A: A personal injury attorney can provide valuable guidance and support throughout the claims process. They can help protect your rights, build a strong case, negotiate with the insurance company, and ensure you receive fair compensation for the impact the accident had on your pre-existing injury.