The Impact of Pre-Existing Injuries On Personal Injury Case Evaluation

It is not uncommon in our practice to be asked to represent clients in automobile cases who have pre-existing conditions. The closer in time to an accident the pre-existing condition is, the more difficult it is to separate the proverbial “wheat from the chaff” and to prove that the client’s problems arising out of the current accident were either caused by that accident and/or were aggravated by it. While it is not necessary, as a matter of law, to prove that the new injury was solely caused by the new accident because compensation is available for aggravation of pre-existing injuries, the difficulty is that the defense can always argue that the new accident did not cause any new, nor aggravating injury, but that the old injury simply remained. The proof problems caused by such cases are very difficult and oftentimes clients do not appreciate the fact that juries are very skeptical of claims where the pre-existing injury is documented in medical records and appears either identical to or very similar to the injury complained of immediately following the new accident.
Lawyers make decisions about the value of any personal injury claim based on the evidence in any particular case. The evidence in pre-existing injury cases is often critical because if a medical record shows that a client already had a particular injury and had/or received medical care for an earlier injury, and then they are involved in another accident, the issue will be whether they had recovered from that injury, whether they were asymptomatic at the time of the new injury, or whether they were still suffering from the lingering effects of the prior injury. As might be imagined, all of these factors enter into case evaluation. Moreover, when it comes to a discussion of “proximate cause,” that being proving that the new accident actually caused a new injury or aggravated an earlier one, the calculus becomes extremely complex. Georgia juries, being inherently conservative, oftentimes return defense verdicts in cases where the pre-existing injury was identical to the newly claimed injury and the treatment for that old injury mirrored the new injury treatment in substantially similar respects.
Obviously, all cases must be judged on the evidence for that particular case as all such cases are factually specific. Nonetheless, there are some unique challenges that arise in the context of pre-existing injuries.

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