Traffic Accident Lawsuits and Pre-Existing Injuries

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 What are Traffic Accident Lawsuits?

A traffic accident lawsuit is usually filed so that an individual can recover damages for injuries and losses which were caused by the accident. The term traffic accident is a broad term which may refer to accidents that occur on any roadway, including:

  • Highways;
  • Side streets;
  • Residential areas; and
  • Parking lots.

Traffic accidents may also involve numerous different types of vehicles, including:

  • Passenger automobiles;
  • Large trucks;
  • Motorcycles;
  • Bicycles; and
  • Pedestrians.

The majority of traffic accident lawsuits are based on the legal theory of negligence. Some claims can also overlap with criminal law, for example, misdemeanor or felony DUI charges.

What is a Pre-Existing Injury?

Pre-existing injuries, or pre-existing medical conditions are any injuries or conditions that were present prior to a traffic accident occurring. In many cases, an injured individual in a traffic accident lawsuit may have an old injury that is aggravated, or made worse, by the traffic accident incident.

In these types of cases, it becomes more difficult to determine the defendant’s liability, if any, for the injuries the victim sustained. This is because it would be unfair to hold a defendant liable for injuries which they did not actually cause by their negligence or recklessness.

What Type of Damages Can I Recover in an Auto Accident Lawsuit?

There are two major categories of damages which may be recovered in an automobile accident lawsuit, compensatory damages and punitive damages. Compensatory damages are money awards which are paid by a negligent driver to the driver and passengers of the other vehicle in order to compensate them for their losses.

Compensatory damages are intended to compensate for all of the typical losses associated with automobile accidents which can be proven, including:

  • The cost to repair or replace a damaged vehicle;
  • A person injured by a negligent driver could expect to get damages to pay the costs of medical care, such as costs for:
    • doctors;
    • medicines;
    • hospital stays; or
    • therapy;
  • If an individual who was injured in an automobile accident cannot do their job, they can be compensated for their lost wages; and
  • An injured driver or passenger may be able to obtain compensation for their pain and suffering.

It may also be possible for an individual to collect compensation for losses which they will experience in the future. In the worst cases, for example, an individual may not be able to work at the same type of job which they could prior to the accident.

An individual can collect compensation for financial losses this will cause. An injured driver may require long-term care in a nursing facility.

A negligent driver may expect to pay for the costs of long-term care. It may require the testimony of an expert to provide a reliable estimate of the amount these future losses will cost.

Can I Recover Punitive Damages?

Punitive damages, also referred to as exemplary damages, are additional monies that a negligent driver may be required to pay if they demonstrated intentional misconduct or extreme recklessness. Extreme recklessness may include conduct such as speeding far above the speed limit.

The majority of automobile accidents involve simple negligence. Simple negligence may include not stopping in time to avoid colliding with the vehicle in front of a driver at a red light.

If the driver who caused the automobile accident’s actions only amounted to simple negligence, an injured driver likely would not be able to collect punitive damages.

Punitive damages, which are awarded in addition to compensatory damages, may be awarded if a negligent driver engaged in:

  • Gross violations of road rules or traffic laws;
  • Driving while intoxicated (DUI or DWI);
  • Incompetence, especially if the driver is unlicensed; and
  • Driving while being aware that the vehicle was in poor condition.

Punitive damages are intended to punish negligent drivers for gross misconduct. Typically these states will provide that the punitive damages award must be relatively proportionate to the compensatory damages awarded.

This means that the punitive damages must be reasonable compared to the compensatory damages. For example, if a driver is awarded compensatory damages of $5,000, for example, then the driver may expect punitive damages of $500,000, but not $5,000,000.

What are Car Accident Settlements?

Car accident settlements are agreements that provide that one party will be responsible for paying for the losses that are suffered by another party in a car accident. Settlements are often drafted in connection with a trial.

For example, evidence may surface which makes it likely that one party was responsible for the automobile accident. The parties may come to an agreement regarding the amount of money that will be paid to compensate the injured party.

This may help shorten the legal process and may save all of the parties money in terms of court fees as well as other expenses. In some cases, the parties may choose to settle their case before it even begins.

This process is called a pre-trial settlement. This is a way that the parties can avoid the costs that are associated with litigation. A settlement may cover issues including:

  • Payment for injuries;
  • Payment for damages to property;
  • Costs of court expenses; and
  • Other expenses.

A car accident settlement may also occur outside of court before the lawsuit is filed.

Are Car Accident Settlements Required?

No, a car accident settlement is not required by a court. They are, however, highly encouraged by courts, as they tend to save the court time and resources.

On the other hand, an automobile accident settlement may not always be an option, especially if the parties have an issue that they are not able to resolve on their own. In these types of cases, the parties will be required to undergo the litigation process and to wait for the decision of the court.

It depends upon the needs of the parties involved as well as the facts and circumstances of the case.

How Does a Pre-Existing Injury Affect the Outcome of a Traffic Accident Lawsuit?

In certain lawsuits, a pre-existing injury may change the amount that a plaintiff is permitted to recover for their injuries in a traffic accident. In some cases, a damages award may be reduced if it is later discovered that the individual’s injury was actually a re-injury of a prior existing injury.

For example, suppose that the plaintiff had a back injury prior to the accident. If the individual then injured their spine in a car accident, it may be difficult to determine whether the new back injury would have been less severe if not for the prior back injury.

If it is determined that the accident simply aggravated the older condition, it may reduce the amount of damages which a plaintiff can claim. For these types of cases, an expert medical witness may be required.

An expert medical witness can calculate the percentage that the defendant may be held liable for. It may be necessary for the expert to analyze factors including the difference in time between the previous injury and the current injury.

In certain cases, this determination may be complex and may require the assistance of a lawyer or another professional.

Do I Need a Lawyer for Help With a Traffic Accident Lawsuit?

A traffic accident lawsuit may present unique challenges, especially if pre-existing injuries are involved. It may be in your best interest to consult with a car accident attorney if you have any issues, questions, or concerns related to your traffic accident.

Your lawyer can advise you of the laws of your state as well as the possibility of obtaining damages. In addition, your lawyer will represent you during any settlement negotiations and in court if you are required to appear.

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