Many insurance companies treat personal injury victims as if they should have been in perfect health before their accidents. Realistically, this is rarely the case—millions of Americans live with pre-existing health conditions and injuries.
Although they are common, pre-existing injuries could have an impact on your personal injury claim; the insurance company may use this information to justify a lower settlement. However, Georgia’s eggshell plaintiff doctrine protects the rights of personal injury victims with pre-existing conditions.
What Is a Pre-Existing Injury?
A pre-existing condition is a medical illness or injury that you already have at some point in time. This term usually refers to conditions that a patient has before he or she begins a new health care plan. During the personal injury litigation process, pre-existing conditions refer to the illnesses or injuries that you have before your accident.
Common pre-existing injuries include the following:
Arthritis and weak bones
An old back or neck injury
A brain injury
The Eggshell Plaintiff Rule in Georgia
Not all personal injury victims have a perfect bill of health. According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, as many as 19 to 50% of all Americans live with a pre-existing condition. Although it is statistically unreasonable to expect that every personal injury victim is in perfect health, insurance companies and defense attorneys often try to use these conditions to justify a lower award or to deny an award altogether. They may claim that your injuries and damages would not be as extensive if you did not have the pre-existing condition.
However, the eggshell plaintiff rule renders these arguments invalid. This doctrine states that negligent defendants are still liable for the full extent of their victims’ damages, even if the victim had a condition that made him or her unusually susceptible to injury. For example, if you have an existing brain injury and the accident worsens your condition, you could hold the defendant liable for the damages you sustained due to the worsened condition.
Establishing Your Right to Compensation with a Pre-Existing Injury
In Georgia, most personal injury victims pursue compensation through one of two avenues: a personal injury lawsuit or an insurance claim. During these processes, you will need to prove that the at-fault party’s actions directly caused your accident and injuries. If you are filing a personal injury claim, you will need to prove the following four elements.
The at-fault party owed you a duty of care.
The at-fault party breached the duty of care.
You suffered injuries as a direct result of the breach of duty.
You sustained damages in your accident that you can collect in your lawsuit.
Although the at-fault party may not be able to use your pre-existing injury to reduce his or her liability, your condition could complicate some of these elements. You will need to clearly establish which injuries and damages you can attribute to the at-fault party’s actions, and which are attributed to the pre-existing injury. This can make calculating compensation difficult as well.
A Georgia personal injury lawyer can help you navigate these processes. Your attorney will understand the pieces of evidence you will need to collect in order to establish your right to compensation. He or she will also enlist the help of expert witnesses, such as medical professionals, who can examine your condition and calculate the damages you may qualify for. Contact an attorney as soon as possible following your accident to discuss your legal options.