If you are injured as a result of the negligence of someone else, whether your injuries arise from a car accident, slip and fall, physical assault or a defective product, one issue that often arises in the pursuit of a personal injury claim is whether you have any injuries or medical conditions that existed prior to the event that gave rise to your personal injury claim.
If you do have pre-existing injuries or a pre-existing medical condition of some kind, your personal injury claim will have a layer of additional complexity.
This is due, at least in part, to the fact that the insurance company that is likely defending the claim may try and argue that your ongoing injuries are not in fact caused by the negligent act, but instead related to your pre-existing condition.
As lawyers, we often refer to this a causation issue.
Many of my clients, both past and current, have expressed concern to me that their pre-existing injuries and the ‘causation issue’ they may create, will result in them being unable to successfully pursue compensation for their personal injuries.
The reality, however, is that while pre-existing injuries do add a layer of complexity to an injury claim, pre-existing injuries do not automatically mean your personal injury claim is in trouble.
There are numerous ways that the potential causation issue can be dealt with, from the very obvious to the much more complicated.
The most obvious way to deal with this potential issue is in cases where your pre-existing injuries are not in the exact same area as the new injuries.
Often times, when we start looking into these issues it becomes clear that the areas of the body affected by the pre-existing condition are different than the areas affected by the new injuries.
Sometimes it can be as slight as pain being on the right side of the neck instead of the left, or pain in a slightly higher area of the back.
If this can be proven, then the ‘causation issue’ will no longer be an issue.
If the area of your body affected by the pre-existing condition cannot be readily distinguished from the area of your body affected by the new injuries, then things can get more complicated.
At that point, it often becomes necessary to involve a medical expert so that they can do an assessment and provide their opinion on the medical-legal issues that your lawyer has identified as important.
With the appropriate medical evidence, including an opinion that deals with causation issues (as identified by your lawyer), it is often very realistic that what once appeared to be a causation issue no longer is.
If there are causation problems, even after obtaining medical opinions, then decisions can be made on how best to proceed.
If you are injured through the fault of someone else and you do have pre-existing injuries, it is important to understand that while pre-existing injuries can create potential issues for your injury claim, they by no means signal the end to your claim.
However, in light of the complexity this situation can create, you are wise to seek legal advice.
Greg Pratch is a lawyer and partner with Pushor Mitchell LLP. He practices in the area of litigation with a particular emphasis in personal injury matters and tax disputes.