What is a preexisting condition?
A preexisting condition is a prior injury or damage (physical or mental) that was present before the injury that is the subject of the personal injury claim. Brackett v. Peters, 11 F.3d 78, 81 (7th Cir. 1993) (citing Lancaster v. v. Norfolk & Western Ry. Co., 773 F.3d 807, 822-23 (7th Cir. 1985)). Common examples of preexisting conditions include, but are not limited to: asthma, anxiety, depression, diabetes, cancer, high blood pressure, and obesity.
As soon as the victim has received medical treatment from a personal injury, he or she should obtain a personal injury attorney. Then, the victim should disclose, as soon as possible, any and all of their preexisting conditions to the attorney, regardless of their presumed relevance to the alleged injuries. The attorney will then seek the victim’s medical records and begin constructing a case to show that the injuries are, or are not, related to the preexisting medical condition(s) documented in the records. For example, the attorney will highlight the areas of the body affected by the new injury versus the areas affected by the preexisting condition, the time between the diagnosis of the preexisting condition and the new injury, and whether the preexisting condition was dormant or active at the time of the new injury. Knowledge and full and complete disclosure of your preexisting condition(s) helps the attorney anticipate and defeat the defendant’s arguments that could ultimately result in a reduction of the defendant’s liability in the form of a damages award. Moreover, openly disclosing such conditions when it is reasonably likely the defendant will discover their existence looks significantly less incriminating than an attempt to hide or conceal such conditions.
Eggshell Skull Rule
Often, a preexisting condition makes one more susceptible to injury, or makes one predisposed to suffer more than others with the same or similar injury. As a result, the eggshell skull rule (sometimes referred to as the “thin-skull” rule) was created to address the apportionment of damages in personal injury cases. According to this rule, the defendant takes the victim as he/she finds him, regardless of whether or not the victim had knowledge of the preexisting condition at the time of the accident. Thus, the defendant is liable for all related damages suffered by the victim as a result of the defendant’s conduct. Further, this rule makes the defendant liable even if a person without the victim’s preexisting condition would probably not have been injured under the same or similar circumstances. Balestri v. Highway & City Transp., Inc., 373 N.E.2d 689 (1st Dist. 1978), judgment aff’d, 394 N.E.2d 391 (1979).
Burden of Proof
When the eggshell skull rule is applied, the victim and his/her attorneys must demonstrate, where necessary, that the injuries alleged are unrelated to the preexisting condition. On the other hand, the defendant has the burden of proving, where necessary, that the victim’s injury did not aggravate their preexisting condition, or that the injury to the preexisting condition would have inevitably occurred. McCurter v. Luhr Bros., Inc., 2013 WL 10099091 at *8 (2013) (citing Maurer v. U.S., 668 F.2d 98, 100 (2d Cir. 1981)).
For instance, in Tracy v. Village of Lombard, the already injured plaintiff on crutches took a tumble down the stairs of the Village hall resulting in the fracture of his femur three inches from where his previous injury was located. 451 N.E.2d 992, 995 (Ill. App. 2d Dist., 1983). The court determined the fall was caused by his crutches snagging on the tread of the stairs. Id. Therefore, despite his previous injury (and it’s closeness to his new injury) the Village was still ordered to pay him $62,500.00 in damages. Id. Thus, despite a prior injury, even if that injury may have contributed to the cause of the new injury, accident victims are still entitled to relief.
The eggshell skull rule does not allow victims to recover compensation for simply having a preexisting condition at the time of the accident or incident giving rise to their claim. Instead, application of the rule generally results in a reduction of the defendant’s liability for the injuries suffered. For example, the victim of two separate car accidents that occurred three months apart received a total of $409,000.00 in damages. Sakellariadis v. Campbell, 909 N.E.2d 353, 356 (Ill. App. 1st Dist., 2009). After the first accident, the victim was treated for burns to her eyes (caused by air bag deployment) and pain in her upper back. Id. at 356-57. The second accident resulted in additional injuries that led to surgeries for her knee and shoulder, but also compounded injuries suffered from the first accident. Id. at 357, 361. Her ophthalmologist stated the first accident worsened the formation of cataracts in her eyes (a preexisting condition), requiring surgery, and that the eye injuries from the second accident slowed her healing process of the previous burns leading to infections and chemically-induced dry eye. Id. at 357. One defendant settled the case for $150,000.00 prior to the jury’s $518,000.00 award of damages. Id. 356. As a result, the remaining defendant’s liability for the injuries was reduced to $259,000.00 of damages. Id. at 361. In sum, the victim with a preexisting condition will either (a) only recover damages related to the aggravation of their preexisting condition, or (b) only recover for those injuries unrelated to their preexisting condition and caused by the accident.
If you or a loved one has been injured in an accident that was caused by someone else’s negligent or reckless behavior, you may be entitled to compensation even if you have a preexisting condition or illness. The experienced personal injury attorneys at Sherwood Law Group will thoroughly evaluate your case and exercise and get you the compensation you deserve for the injuries suffered. Every potential client is offered a free initial case consultation, and cases are accepted on a contingency basis. In other words, clients won’t pay us until a settlement or verdict has been reached. Call Sherwood Law Group at 312.627.1650, or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org for your free initial case consultation!