What Happens if a Car Accident Aggravates an Existing Injury or Medical Condition?

As we’ve often discussed on our legal blog, if a person is injured in an automotive accident, an Oklahoma City car accident lawyer may be able to help them obtain compensation for their medical bills, lost earnings, and other expenses.  But what happens when an accident, rather than causing a new injury, makes an existing injury worse?  Is it possible for the victim to get compensated in this type of scenario?  And if so, what key points must the injury victim be able to prove?

A Car Accident Made My Old Injury Worse

It’s a common scenario that plays out every single day in Oklahoma.  Imagine that, years or maybe decades ago, you injured your back playing football in college.  It’s been a long time since the injury occurred, and these days, you often forget it exists altogether.  It doesn’t cause you significant pain or discomfort, and doesn’t interfere with your ability to work productively, so there’s really not much reason to think about it.

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Until, that is, you got into a lane change accident while you were driving home from work on I-35.  Instead of paying attention to the distance between your vehicles, the other driver was texting while driving, causing a high-speed collision.  You tried to avoid the crash, but your reflexes weren’t quite fast enough.

Fortunately, you didn’t sustain any critical or life-threatening injuries – but now your back is in pain almost all the time.  You struggle to lift objects, feel stiffer and less mobile than you used to, and sometimes, the agony keeps you awake all night.  You can’t perform your job as well as you could before the accident, which eventually leads to you taking fewer hours and a pay cut.

The question is: could you have a right to compensation?

Can a Plaintiff Be Compensated for the Aggravation of a Pre-Existing Condition in OK?

The negligent driver’s insurance company will probably fight tooth and nail against this possibility, often by making emphatic claims that none of your injuries were actually caused by the car accident.  After all, they might try to argue, that injury came from a football game 15 years ago. They will do everything they can to show that the accident had nothing to do with the pain and limitations you are now suffering from.  They will call for an “Independent” Medical Exam (IME), which is in fact conducted by doctors working for the insurance company.

Fortunately, despite the roadblocks insurance companies so often try to create, it is possible to recover compensation for the aggravation of pre-existing injuries, depending on the injury victim’s ability to establish a before-and-after deterioration in function and health, generally through MRI scans or other forms of medical evidence.

Several precedents have established this over the past few decades.  For example, in the 1981 case of Cantrell v. Henthorn, which involved a rear-end collision, the Supreme Court of Oklahoma noted that “aggravation of a pre-existing condition could be considered, and damages could be awarded on the basis of such aggravation.”

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That being said, the burden of proof still rests upon the plaintiff, meaning the plaintiff bears responsibility for proving certain facts.  These facts are that:

  1. The defendant failed to take the normal and expected safety measures while driving. In our hypothetical scenario, that happens to be texting while driving; but driver negligence can also take many other forms, such as excessive speeding, ignoring traffic signs, or following another vehicle too closely (tailgating).
  2. The accident was caused by the defendant’s actions or failures to act. In other words, the plaintiff’s condition would not have been aggravated but for the defendant’s decision to text while driving (or to violate other traffic laws).
  3. The plaintiff suffered harm as a result of the accident. In our hypothetical scenario, the plaintiff suffered financial harm due to taking a pay reduction, as well as the physical harm of the worsened injury and any medical care which consequently became necessary.

All of these points must be proven by a “preponderance of the evidence,” meaning it was more likely than not that the defendant’s negligence was to blame for the aggravation of the plaintiff’s injury or injuries.

If your back, shoulder, or neck injury was aggravated by an accident for which you were not at fault, you could have a right to compensation for your care costs, losses of income, pain and suffering, and other hardships you’ve experienced as a result of the crash.  However, it’s important to act quickly, before you miss critical deadlines.

To set up a free, completely confidential legal consultation, call the truck accident attorneys of Hasbrook & Hasbrook at (405) 698-3040.  You will not be charged any fees unless we are able to obtain compensation for the aggravation of your injury.