In a lawsuit for personal injury, a plaintiff claims that they have sustained an injury, either mental, physical, or both, due to the defendant’s act or failure to act. A court may award the plaintiff money damages for personal injury.
In some circumstances, the events which form the foundation of a personal injury claim may also include the basis of criminal charges. For instance, a defendant may face a civil lawsuit for assault and a criminal assault and battery charge.
What Kind of Injury Does a Personal Injury Claim Involve?
A personal injury damages a plaintiff’s emotional health, physical health, or both. Mental health injuries include emotional pain and anguish sustained by accident.
Physical injuries include injuries to organs, limbs, or other parts of the anatomy. The damage sustained by a personal injury plaintiff need not manifest itself instantly and may develop over time.
There are several types of occasions or accidents that may form the foundation of a personal injury claim, including:
- Accidents and injuries
- Construction accidents;
- Dog bites and animal attacks;
- Defective products (class action);
- Elder abuse;
- Nursing home abuse;
- Premises liability;
- Product liability injury;
- Toxic exposure (class action);
- Unsafe drugs (class action); and
- Wrongful death;
Multiple types of accidents may occur. It may be useful to review accident statistics to help individuals be more prepared and stop accidents before they happen.
What Kinds of Acts Form the Basis of a Personal Injury Claim?
A personal injury may happen intentionally, such as when a defendant purposefully injures a victim or plans to commit an act that results in injury. A personal injury may also happen unintentionally.
If an unintentional injury results from someone’s negligence, then a plaintiff may file a lawsuit based on the negligent behavior. Automobile accidents, slip and fall accidents, and injuries sustained from medical malpractice, are all considered negligence cases.
What Types of Damages Can a Judge Award an Injured Plaintiff?
An injured plaintiff who demonstrates that a defendant is responsible (establishes the defendant committed intentional or negligent injury) is entitled to compensatory damages. Under the law, a plaintiff can recover two types of damages:
- Damages for an injury, and
- Damages for the consequences of the injury.
The law recognizes this distinction. Under the law, there are two types of compensatory damages known as general damages and specific damages.
General damages are those damages that are awarded for the injury itself. These damages include pain and suffering and mental anguish, and trauma.
General damages cannot be readily assigned a monetary value. Thus, to recover such damages, the testimony of an expert, such as a doctor or psychiatrist, is necessary to assign a monetary value.
Special damages compensate someone for a specific consequence of an injury. Specific consequences include medical expenses and loss of wages.
These items can be assigned a precise monetary value. A physician’s bill, for instance, records payment due, while a pay stub, which is a record of a plaintiff’s earnings, can be used to specify the number of wages lost due to injury.
Special damages will be awarded to compensate the plaintiff for costs that their insurance or Medicare and Medicaid did not cover.
What Is a Pre-existing Medical Condition?
In a legal setting, “pre-existing medical condition” refers to injuries or medical conditions that existed before the injury was claimed in a lawsuit. Pre-existing conditions are commonly the subject of personal injury claims and insurance settlements. They occasionally appear in the context of workplace injuries, particularly where the claim involves repetitive stress injuries.
A person filing a personal injury lawsuit must reveal whether they had any pre-existing medical conditions. These will be factored in when figuring out an award for damages near the end of the trial.
In general, the victim in a personal injury case isn’t entitled to receive payment for injuries and conditions unchanged by the accident. They are, nevertheless, entitled to obtain compensation for pre-existing conditions to the degree that the accident made them worse. Whether it be another person or an insurance company, the defendant will often try to argue that a pre-existing condition was the cause of an injury.
The significance of specifying the severity of a pre-existing condition before and after an accident means that in any personal injury case, the injured party will inevitably face questions from the other side about their past injuries or health conditions. Your lawyer will try to show how the accident aggravated any ailments or injuries you had beforehand. In contrast, the insurance company will try to blame everything on any pre-existing issue they can find, no matter how insignificant or unrelated.
What Are Some Examples of Pre-Existing Medical Conditions?
Any injury or medical condition that existed before an accident can be considered a pre-existing medical condition. However, for personal injury lawsuits, the most critical pre-existing medical conditions are those that start to interact with the newer injury.
Some examples of common pre-existing medical conditions include:
- Injuries sustained from a previous, unrelated accident
- Congenital abnormalities (i.e., “birth defect”)
- Injuries that did not heal correctly or are in the process of healing (these are common for joint, spine, and neck injuries)
- Medical conditions that disappear and reappear under stress, such as asthma or seizure
- Alcohol/drug abuse that was recently treated
- Mental illness
- Alzheimer’s disease
- Multiple Sclerosis
- Rheumatoid arthritis
- Muscular dystrophy
- Cancer that was recently diagnosed
- Extreme Obesity
- Cerebral palsy
How Do Pre-existing Conditions Affect My Ability to Recover Damages?
While having a pre-existing condition will not disqualify the injured person from recovering damages, the amount of the award will usually be lowered in consideration of the pre-existing injury. Of course, it can be challenging to determine which injuries were caused by the defendant and which were already in existence beforehand. Nevertheless, this can usually be done through medical examination or expert testimony.
Likewise, a person is usually obligated to disclose pre-existing conditions like insurance policies and employment claims in other settings. Failure to make such disclosures can negatively affect the injured individual, both legally and economically.
When Are Expert Witnesses Used?
An expert witness is used when scientific, technical, or specialized testimony will help the jury understand the evidence or resolve a disputed issue, such as pre-existing conditions.
How to Choose an Expert Witness
There are many issues to consider when deciding whether or not to use expert witnesses to establish a pre-existing condition. Below are several considerations to take into account when determining whether or not to use an expert witness:
- Is the expert a professor or other professional who can explain complex concepts clearly?
- Can the expert make a compelling delivery to the jury?
- Does your expert have the time to prepare for a case?
- Would it be easy for opposing counsel to show that your expert is biased or is not independent of your case?
Do I Need a Lawyer for Issues with Pre-existing Medical Conditions?
Personal injury claims can sometimes be tricky, particularly if the injured party already had injuries before the accident. If you have been injured and wish to file a lawsuit, you may wish to contact a personal injury lawyer for help. You should never feel discouraged from seeking compensation for your injuries because of a pre-existing condition.
The compensation you may be eligible to receive for the aggravation of a pre-existing condition will depend on establishing the rigor of that condition and how it impacted your life before the accident. Your attorney can help advise you on how pre-existing conditions might affect your damages award.