One of the most common questions I receive from potential clients relates to pre-existing injuries or conditions and how those will affect their case. The majority of the time I see this with clients who have a history of neck or back problems, however, this can relate to any body part. The thought process of my clients is, “I was already hurting before the accident so I suppose there is nothing I can do.” That is not the case.
Pre-Existing Conditions And The Eggshell Skull Doctrine
Every practicing lawyer remembers the day they learned about the “eggshell skull” doctrine in first-year torts class. Essentially, the principle is as follows: A person gets into what others would perceive as a very minor accident and receives a small bump to the head. Most of us can withstand the bumps and bruises which accompany everyday life, however, this particular person has a skull which comparable to the thickness of an eggshell. Rather than sustaining a very minor bump, the person in this hypothetical accident is seriously injured.
When this occurs, one potential argument against responsibility is, “had this been a normal person they would not have been injured at all. I shouldn’t be responsible for these serious injuries.” Unfortunately for this hypothetical defendant, under the “eggshell skull” doctrine you “take the plaintiff as you find them.” One very famous legal treatise describes this doctrine in more detail.
"It is as if a magic circle were drawn about the person, and one who breaks it, even by so much as a cut on the finger, becomes liable for all resulting harm to the person, although it may be death․ The defendant is held liable for unusual results of personal injuries which are regarded as unforeseeable, such as heart disease․ The defendant of course is liable only for the extent to which the defendant's conduct has resulted in an aggravation of the pre-existing condition, and not for the condition as it was; but as to the aggravation, foreseeability is not a factor."
W. Page Keeton et al., Prosser and Keeton on The Law of Torts § 43 at 291-92.
In layman’s terms, it is no defense to argue “this wouldn’t have happened to a normal healthy person.” If someone penetrates the “magic circle,” they are responsible for any resulting consequence. One really famous example of this relates to medical malpractice. For example, if you are injured by another and seek treatment from a medical professional, and this medical professional commits malpractice, the other person is responsible for the medical error committed by the doctor. This is because but for the underlying injury you never would have seen that doctor. Some may argue this to be unfair, regardless, this is well-settled law in Nevada as well as most other states.
How Does The Law Deal With Pre-Existing Conditions Following A Personal Injury Accident?
Despite the law being on your side there are still difficult legal and factual issues to contend with when you are involved in an accident and have a pre-existing condition. You are responsible for establishing that your injury either caused your pre-existing condition to become symptomatic again, or it exacerbated the pain related to your underlying pre-existing condition. This must be established through medical evidence. Once this is established, the burden then shifts back to the other party to prove otherwise. There are other twists and turns in this area of law when there are multiple accidents or defendants, but I will save that for another blog.
Do You Have A Case? Speak To A Personal Injury Lawyer For Free.
Long story short, this is a very complex area of the law and you should consult with an experienced personal injury attorney to determine your legal rights. Don’t assume that just because you had this problem or condition prior to the accident that you are out of luck. The law is not always clear in this area and your claim for damages may be much stronger than you think.
If you've been injured in Henderson or the greater Las Vegas metro area please feel free to contact us online to schedule your free, no obigation consultation. You call also call myself or Justin directly at 866.299.0558.