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Will My Pre-Existing Condition Affect My Car Accident Settlement?

Insurance companies will always try to pay the bare minimum for an injury claim. If you have any health issues or preexisting conditions, they may try to use that against you. But there is a rule in place to protect you if your pre-existing conditions were made worse.

The eggshell skull or thin skull rule states the at-fault party is not excused from responsibility just because you have a physical or mental condition at the time of the incident that makes you more likely to be injured or to receive a higher level of injury.

If you have a pre-existing condition—which just means that it existed before the accident—and it is made worse, the at-fault party is not excused from responsibility just because you had that condition. You can still recover damages if your condition is made worse by the negligence of another person.

Not every personal injury case is the same, and the eggshell skull rule doesn’t apply to every situation. A personal injury attorney can help craft the best defense for your case if it goes to court.

Example #1

Jane has been treating for depression and anxiety since she graduated college. On her way home from work, she was involved in a car accident with a reckless driver. She went to the doctor to treat some minor physical injuries. In the months following the accident, Jane’s depression and anxiety worsened to the point where she struggled to get out of bed. Though she continued seeing her therapist, the act of getting into her car and driving there would often result in an anxiety attack. She had not experienced anxiety attacks before her accident. The at-fault driver’s insurance company offers a settlement, but it doesn’t include enough money to cover the rising cost of her new prescriptions or additional therapy.

The eggshell skull rule does apply to psychological damages, but not always. Generally if the plaintiff (Jane) is already vulnerable because of an existing mental condition, the eggshell skull rule will apply in their favor.

Psychological damages, like anxiety and depression, are “invisible” injuries and more difficult to quantify when it comes to compensation. In Jane’s case, her settlement should include payment to cover her treatment costs — even if the costs are higher because of her worsened pre-existing condition.

You may be worried about disclosing to your personal injury attorney that you were seeing a therapist before the accident. But having medical records from before the car accident will help prove that your condition was exacerbated by the event.

It is always better to be honest with your personal injury attorney: they’ll know what information will help and what information may hurt your claim if it goes to court.

Example #2

Steven has mild brittle bone disease. He is rear-ended at a stop sign and cracks his skull. Steven ultimately dies from his injuries. Steven’s wife files a wrongful death claim with the at-fault driver’s insurance to recover medical expenses, funeral costs, and loss of her husband. Because the accident was so minor, the insurance company tries to offer a low settlement that covers Steven’s bills but none of the funeral costs.

The eggshell skull rule protects victims whenever the defendant’s negligence causes injury, or in this case, wrongful death. The negligent driver and their insurance company cannot hide behind Steven’s pre-existing condition to escape responsibility for his death.

Example #3

Becca suffered a herniated disk when she was younger and had to get surgery. It hasn’t bothered her in some years. During the winter her landlord forgets to buy salt for the sidewalks outside her apartment, and Becca slips and falls on the ice. The fall causes her old back injury to flare up, leading to more surgery and physical therapy. Her landlord’s insurance doesn’t want to pay for her medical expenses for surgery as well as physical therapy because Becca had a back injury before.

The eggshell skull rule would apply to Becca’s slip and fall accident. The landlord can’t dodge liability just because Becca suffered a previous injury. The eggshell skull rule states that the defendant has to take the victim in the condition they found them.

Additionally, a personal injury settlement isn’t just for medical bills. It should also cover the victim’s physical therapy and other non-economic damages like pain and suffering. If Becca is actively treating her injury, the landlord’s insurance company would have a hard time justifying a smaller payment that didn’t cover those costs for the injuries caused in her fall.

Example #4

Leah was in a car accident with a negligent driver and is experiencing some neck pain. She thinks it is just arthritis, but her doctor confirms that while her arthritis may have caused the injury to be more severe, the neck injury was caused by the car accident. The at-fault driver’s insurance low balls a settlement, claiming that Leah’s arthritis would have caused the same neck problems down the line, and that the defendant shouldn’t have to cover damages for medical problems that would’ve happened anyway.

In this case, the defendant is trying to use the crumbling skull rule in their favor. The crumbling skull rule states that a defendant does not have to compensate the victim for the pre-existing condition itself, or if a pre-existing condition would have caused the same medical problems without or without the accident.

This is not to be confused with the eggshell skull rule, which doesn’t excuse the defendant from any liability.

In Leah’s case, she would benefit from seeking advice from a personal injury lawyer who can not only deal with the insurance companies on her behalf, but can also create a compelling argument in her favor if the claim goes to court.

Help from an Indianapolis Personal Injury Attorney

An insurance company cannot use your pre-existing condition to get out of providing proper compensation for your injuries. If you are filing a personal injury claim and are concerned about your settlement, a local personal injury attorney can help. Please give Hensley Legal Group a call, or contact us online today for a free conversation about your personal injury claim.