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Will Pre-Existing Injuries Change the Settlement Amount of a Car Accident Lawsuit?

big letters that "pre-existing condition" and pill is against them.

Being involved in a car accident is a traumatic experience, and the path to justice can be very hard to navigate. This is especially true when you have pre-existing injuries, as it adds another layer of complexity to your case. A personal injury attorney is an indispensable guide at this time, and it’s crucial that you find a Gillette, Wyoming or Casper, Wyoming attorney who has experience in Wyoming laws and courts.

The Legal Implications of Pre-Existing Injuries

When an individual is injured in a car accident, the primary goal of a lawsuit is to establish fault and assess the degree of responsibility. The party at fault, or their insurance company, is typically responsible for compensating the victim for their damages. These damages may encompass medical expenses, lost wages, and pain and suffering.

However, the presence of pre-existing injuries can complicate this scenario. The defense may argue that your injuries pre-dated the accident, implying that their client is thus not liable for your current condition. If they succeed in this argument, it could lead to a reduced settlement amount. Wyoming law, however, acknowledges this nuance and contains specific provisions to prevent individuals with pre-existing conditions from being unfairly disadvantaged.

The Eggshell Doctrine in Wyoming Law

Wyoming law applies the “eggshell plaintiff” doctrine. This important legal principle stipulates that a defendant must “take their victim as they find them,” meaning if a car accident exacerbates your pre-existing condition, the responsible party cannot use your prior health status as a reason to decrease your damages.

This principle is vital for individuals who have pre-existing conditions. It ensures that you are entitled to compensation for any worsening of those conditions instigated by the accident, even if a person without those conditions would not have suffered equivalent harm. The eggshell doctrine ensures fairness, asserting that individuals with pre-existing conditions should not be penalized for their prior health status.

Effect of Pre-Existing Injuries on the Litigation Process

While the eggshell doctrine offers protection to victims with pre-existing conditions, these cases invariably involve a more complex litigation process. It often requires extensive medical examinations and the involvement of expert witnesses to distinguish between injuries caused by the accident and those pre-dating it and to decide, if the pre-existing condition has been worse since the accident, whether it was been made worse by the accident or coincidentally. Here are some steps that are vital to the whole process:

Honesty From the Start

One crucial step in dealing with pre-existing conditions is to be upfront and honest about them from the start. Trying to hide these conditions can backfire, causing harm to your credibility and potentially the outcome of your case. You should disclose any pre-existing conditions to your attorney as early as possible, so they can build a strategy that takes them into account. Be sure to tell your attorney the complete truth about the extent of the condition before the accident.

Keep Good Medical Records

When proving the extent of injuries and how they relate to the accident, medical records are key. These include records not just from after the accident, but also from before, to establish the baseline health of the plaintiff. This could involve obtaining records from your primary care physician, specialists you’ve seen, and any hospital or emergency room visits.

Getting Expert Opinions

It can be very beneficial to obtain expert medical testimony to explain how the accident exacerbated your pre-existing condition. This could be from a treating physician or a medical expert hired for the purposes of litigation. This expert can help differentiate between the injuries caused by the accident and symptoms related to the pre-existing condition.

Another strategy might involve the use of a life care planner or vocational expert. These professionals can assess the impact of the accident on your ability to work and perform everyday activities, especially in relation to your pre-existing condition. They can provide valuable testimony on the need for future medical care and the impact on your earning capacity.

Stay Consistent in Treatment

It’s also important to show consistent medical treatment for your condition, both before and after the accident. Gaps in treatment can create doubt about whether the accident aggravated the pre-existing condition or whether the condition worsened due to a lack of continuous care. Gaps in care after the accident could be interpreted to suggest you weren’t injured as severely as you claim.

Tactics of the Defense

In some cases, a defendant may attempt to use a pre-existing condition as a way to reduce their liability, claiming that your current injuries were primarily caused by your pre-existing condition and not the accident. This is often referred to as the “pre-existing injury defense.” However, remember the Eggshell Plaintiff doctrine—this defense doesn’t hold if it can be proven that the accident aggravated your pre-existing condition or created new injuries.

Insurance companies also play a significant role in a car accident lawsuit, and their objective is often to minimize the payout. They typically have many lawyers and medical professionals at their disposal, and they may argue that your injuries were pre-existing and not a result of the accident. In such situations, our role as your legal representation is to counter these claims with solid evidence and ensure that the insurance companies fulfill their obligations.

Dealing with pre-existing conditions in a personal injury lawsuit requires a thorough review of medical history, consistent treatment, expert testimony, and a strategic legal approach. Being honest and transparent about your condition and how it has changed since the accident is essential to build a strong case and obtain the compensation you deserve.

Wyoming Car Accidents and Settlements

Wyoming has a lot of car accidents. The state is consistently at or near the top of vehicle crash deaths in certain categories, including the number of deaths per 100,000 population and fatal single-vehicle accidents. In 2020, Wyoming had the second-highest number of vehicle deaths per 100,000 people, with 22 deaths.

As for settlements after car accidents, the amount varies depending on the severity of the accident and the injuries incurred. Settlements can range from the lower 4-figures all the way up to the million-dollar range. Factors influencing the settlement amount include current and projected future medical bills, property damage, lost wages, pain and suffering, loss of consortium, and emotional distress.

Different types of injuries can also result in varying settlement amounts. For instance, traumatic brain injuries, spinal injuries resulting in paralysis, and severe neck injuries can lead to higher settlements due to the serious and long-term effects these injuries can have on the victim’s life. Conversely, injuries that are less severe and have shorter recovery periods, such as whiplash and minor back injuries, tend to result in smaller settlements.

Work with a Qualified Gillette, Wyoming or Casper, Wyoming Personal Injury Attorney

While pre-existing conditions can add complexity to a car accident lawsuit, they don’t necessarily translate into a lost cause. The unique nature of each car accident case, paired with the intricacies added by pre-existing conditions, underscores the necessity of a bespoke legal strategy, however. At the Ochs Law Firm, we pride ourselves on devising an effective plan of action for each client.

As your legal advisors, we provide you with insights on possible outcomes, drawing from our extensive experience and deep understanding of Wyoming law. By exploring all potential scenarios, we equip you to make informed decisions at each stage of your case. Call Ochs Law Firm today for your free consultation.

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Our experienced Wyoming personal injury lawyer, Jason E. Ochs will fight to help you recover proper compensation in a class action, pharmaceutical, and medical cases throughout multiple states. Contact us today.

Jason E. Ochs

Jason began his legal career in 2002 with a national multi-district litigation law firm in Newport Beach, California. There he worked on a variety of high-profile, complex-litigation projects including pharmaceutical and medical-device litigation across the country.

The Ochs Law Firm epitomizes professionalism and commitment to all of our clients, regardless of the size of the case or the might of the Defendant. We practice in Wyoming, Colorado, Kansas and California in personal injury litigation, medical malpractice, defective products, class action lawsuits, Qui Tam lawsuits, litigation across multiple districts, bad faith insurance, and civil litigation.

We look forward to providing top quality service and representation for you and your family.