In Texas, personal injury law is pretty straightforward. If someone else is negligent and causes you harm, they’re typically responsible for your losses. While the process of proving negligence and damages is complicated, the underlying rule is simple. But what happens when the injury isn’t new?
Many people who have been hurt in car accidents or in some other way injured by someone else’s negligence fear that they won’t be able to recover if the incident aggravated a pre-existing condition. Often, that misconception leads to serious mistakes. A pre-existing condition generally won’t kill your personal injury claim. But, trying to hide one might.
Aggravation of Pre-existing Conditions
Pre-existing conditions are common in Texas and around the U.S. For example, 16 million adults–that’s about 8% of the adult population in the United States–have chronic back pain.
That doesn’t mean those people are excluded from receiving compensation for a car accident that causes a back injury. However, it may impact the way damages are calculated. The goal of a personal injury award is to restore the victim as nearly as possible to the position they were in before the injury.
That means you’ll typically be eligible for compensation for any worsening of the pre-existing condition that was caused by the accident. That’s true even if you were only hurt, or were hurt worse, because of your pre-existing condition.
The Eggshell Skull Rule
Texas law recognizes a doctrine known as the “eggshell skull rule” or the “thin skull rule.” In simple terms, that means the defendant takes the victim as he is in a personal injury case. Imagine, for instance, that the injured person has pre-existing spinal deterioration and is paralyzed in a car accident. The responsible party will generally be held liable for the paralysis and related costs and other losses even if a healthy person would not have been paralyzed by the same accident.
This doctrine may be extended to other types of effects as well. For example, if a drunk driver hits another vehicle and the driver of the other car suffers a fatal heart attack, the drunk driver will likely be liable for wrongful death, even if the victim had an underlying cardiac problem. Similarly, if someone is suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder but the condition is largely controlled and they suffer a relapse as a result of the accident, the negligent driver may be liable.
Concealing Pre-existing Conditions
Too often, people who have been injured fear that if the responsible party, the court, and even their own attorneys know about the pre-existing condition, they won’t be able to recover damages. As explained above, that’s not necessarily true. However, attempting to conceal a pre-existing condition to protect your claim may have the opposite effect. Hiding pre-existing conditions can hurt because:
- Your attorney won’t be able to effectively prepare your case without complete and accurate information.
- Expert witnesses on your side won’t be able to speak authoritatively without complete and accurate information.
- The responsible party’s insurance carrier will investigate, and will almost certainly discover what you’re trying to hide.
- The insurer may become unwilling to negotiate a settlement after learning that you’ve intentionally concealed information.
- The judge and jury may not trust you and may think you’re lying about other aspects of the case if they find out you hid a pre-existing condition.
How do you know when to disclose old injuries or medical conditions? Always tell your San Antonio personal injury lawyer. Your lawyer can advise you on what is relevant and what information you must provide.
Dealing With Insurance Companies Before You Have an Attorney
Insurance carriers may ask you to sign medical releases and answer questions soon after the accident, when you may not have retained an attorney. Be very careful in what you say, and especially in what you sign. It’s important not to lie, but that doesn’t mean you’re obligated to answer every question as soon as it’s asked, or to sign documents as soon as you receive them.
It’s not unusual for an insurer to overreach, probing deep into your history or asking you to sign open-ended medical releases that give them access to records across years or decades. Most of these records won’t be relevant to your case, but they will scrutinize them anyway, looking for anything they can use against you. If you are represented by an attorney, you should never answer questions or sign anything without consulting your lawyer.
How a Texas Personal Injury Lawyer Can Help
When you have a pre-existing condition and suffer a further injury due to someone else’s negligence, it’s wise to talk to a San Antonio injury attorney right away. Your attorney can help you determine what you’re required to disclose to the responsible party and their insurance carrier, and explain how your pre-existing condition may impact your claim. More importantly, an experienced personal injury attorney will know how to identify and hire the right experts to address your pre-existing condition and the extent of your new injuries or aggravation.
At the Law Offices of George Salinas, we make it easy to get the information you need. Just call 210-225-0909 or fill out our contact form to schedule your free consultation. Or, you can click in the lower right-hand corner of this page to chat with a representative.
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