Car Accidents & Pre-Existing Injuries: Can You Still Pursue a Personal Injury Claim in PA?

Injuries from car accidents can range from minor to severely life-altering. When you factor in pre-existing injuries, the situation becomes even more complex.

In Pennsylvania, as in many other states, the question of whether you can still pursue a personal injury claim with pre-existing injuries is a common question. When deciding whether or not to proceed with your case, there are some things you may need to consider.

Pre-Existing Injuries
Pre-existing injuries are physical or medical conditions that existed before the car accident. These can include old injuries, chronic conditions, or underlying medical issues. Some common pre-existing conditions that could be relevant in such cases include:

  • Back Injuries: Pre-existing back conditions, such as herniated discs, sciatica, or chronic back pain, can be exacerbated by the forces exerted in a car accident, making them a common factor in personal injury claims.
  • Neck Injuries: Conditions like whiplash, cervical spondylosis, or prior neck surgeries can be affected by car accidents, particularly rear-end collisions.
  • Joint Issues: Pre-existing conditions involving joints, such as arthritis or prior joint surgeries, can be aggravated by the impact of a car accident.
  • Chronic Pain Conditions: Conditions like fibromyalgia, complex regional pain syndrome (CRPS), or chronic migraines may be worsened by the trauma of a car accident.
  • Orthopedic Conditions: Prior fractures, joint replacements, or other orthopedic issues can become more problematic after a car accident.
  • Cardiovascular Conditions: Pre-existing heart conditions, like hypertension or a history of heart attacks, can be impacted by the stress and trauma of an accident.
  • Psychological Conditions: Conditions like anxiety, depression, or post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) may be exacerbated by the emotional trauma of a car accident.
  • Neurological Conditions: Pre-existing conditions like epilepsy, multiple sclerosis, or Parkinson's disease could be influenced by the shock and stress of an accident.
  • Respiratory Conditions: People with respiratory conditions, such as asthma or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), may experience worsening symptoms due to airbag deployment or exposure to airbag dust.

It's important to note that the impact of a pre-existing condition will depend on the individual circumstances of the accident, the severity of the pre-existing condition, and the medical evidence available. If you have a pre-existing condition and are involved in a car accident, it's essential to seek medical attention promptly, inform your healthcare provider of your pre-existing condition, and consult with an attorney experienced in personal injury law to determine the best course of action for pursuing a claim.

When pursuing a personal injury claim in Pennsylvania, the presence of pre-existing injuries does not automatically disqualify you from seeking compensation. The key is to establish the connection between the accident and the exacerbation of your pre-existing condition.

Causation Matters
In Pennsylvania, to succeed in a personal injury claim, you must prove that the car accident was a substantial factor in aggravating or worsening your pre-existing condition. This is commonly referred to as the "causation" element. It means that if the accident didn't contribute to your pre-existing injury or condition, you may not have a valid claim. Therefore, gathering medical evidence and expert opinions is crucial to establish the link between the accident and your worsened condition.

The Eggshell Plaintiff Rule
Pennsylvania follows the "eggshell plaintiff" rule, which means that the at-fault party is responsible for the harm they caused, even if the victim had pre-existing injuries or conditions that made them more susceptible to injury. In essence, if the car accident makes your condition worse, the responsible party is liable for the added harm. This rule recognizes that it's the defendant's actions that matter, not the victim's vulnerability.

Maximizing Compensation
If your pre-existing condition was aggravated by a car accident, you may be entitled to compensation for various damages, including:

  • Medical expenses: You can seek reimbursement for medical bills related to treating your aggravated condition.
  • Pain and suffering: Compensation for the physical and emotional distress you endured due to the accident and its impact on your pre-existing injuries.
  • Lost wages: If your injuries caused you to miss work, you can seek compensation for the income you lost.
  • Future medical expenses: If your condition requires ongoing treatment, you can pursue compensation for future medical costs.

When Not to Pursue a Claim
While pursuing a personal injury claim is a valid option in many cases, there are situations where an attorney would advise against it. Factors that may impact an attorney’s decision to pursue the claim include:

  • Inadequate evidence: If you cannot establish a clear connection between the accident and the exacerbation of your pre-existing injury, it may be challenging to pursue a claim.
  • Minor injuries: If the accident did not significantly worsen your pre-existing condition and your injuries are relatively minor, it might not be worth the time and effort to pursue a personal injury claim.
  • Legal costs: Legal proceedings can be costly, so consider the potential expenses associated with pursuing a claim, especially if your injuries are minor.
  • Settlement offers: If the at-fault party or their insurance company offers you a fair settlement that covers your damages, it may be a quicker and less stressful option than going through a lawsuit.

While legally complex, personal injury claims with pre-existing conditions can still be successfully pursued if the accident exacerbates the existing condition. The key is to demonstrate causation and establish that the at-fault party is responsible for any additional harm.

If you're unsure about the viability of your personal injury claim, it's crucial to consult with an experienced attorney who can provide guidance and assess the strength of your case. Seeking professional legal advice can help you make an informed decision about whether or not to proceed with a personal injury claim and maximize your chances of obtaining fair compensation. 

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