You hop in your car on a Saturday morning, heading out to the mall to do some shopping. Along the way, as you pull to stop at a signal, the car behind you rear-ends you. As a result, you suffer neck and back injuries that require medical treatment and force you to miss time from work. Since it was the other driver's fault, you figure you can collect for all damages and losses, including missed work.
When the claim goes before the at-fault driver's insurance adjuster, however, the adjuster argues that it appears you had already been suffering from a previous spinal injury, and your current injuries would not have resulted had you not had that pre-existing condition.
Is the claims adjuster right? Can his company withhold compensation because you were more prone to injuring your back?
The answer in Illinois, as in every state, is no, but this doesn't mean opposing insurance companies or attorneys in a personal injury lawsuit will not try to claim your injuries resulted from your pre-existing condition and not from the accident.
A legal principle known as the “eggshell skull rule,” or “eggshell plaintiff rule,” recognized across the country, holds that the person or entity at fault for an injury-causing accident is responsible for all damages caused by their negligence, regardless of the injured party's prior history of frailty or susceptibility to injury.
If you or a loved one has been injured in a car accident in Naperville, Illinois, and your pre-existing condition is a target to lower or deny compensation for damages owed, contact Marker & Crannell Attorneys at Law. Our personal injury attorneys will assess the circumstances and press your claim using the eggshell skull rule. If need be, we will file a personal injury lawsuit.
Marker & Crannell Attorneys at Law proudly serve clients in Bolingbrook, Aurora, Romeoville, Joliet, and neighboring communities of Illinois.
What Are Pre-Existing Medical Conditions?
A pre-existing medical condition can arise from a previous injury that makes you somewhat (or even a lot) more susceptible to being injured in the same way again or in the same part of the body. A pre-existing condition can also stem from a disease or bodily condition unrelated to – that is, not necessarily caused by -- any accident.
Examples of pre-existing conditions stemming from previous injuries include, but are not limited to, previously broken bones, a herniated disc, traumatic brain injury, and even just strains and sprains. Pre-existing conditions with causes other than injuries include arthritis, degenerative disc disease, diabetes, fibromyalgia, Parkinson's, and cardiac disease.
How Do They Affect a Personal Injury Claim?
As mentioned previously, the person or entity from which you, the injured party, are seeking compensation for injuries sustained will argue that the pre-existing condition itself caused your injuries. In the injured back example above, the at-fault insurance company can request your medical record. Then, learning that you are in intermittent or even constant pain and need to take painkillers, they can argue that your “new” injuries are just what you normally experience.
You'll have to show that the accident put you into a new round of pain and suffering that calls for renewed treatment, rehabilitation, physical therapy, and medication.
What Illinois Law Says about
In a case that featured the all-too-familiar argument that the defendant – the at-fault party – was not responsible for injuries sustained by the plaintiff because of a pre-existing condition, the Appellate Court of Illinois, First Judicial District, ruled:
“To be clear, the eggshell plaintiff rule is a damages rule, not a causation rule; it requires responsibility by the defendant for all damages caused by his negligence, even if they were greater than normal because of the plaintiff's pre-existing condition, but it does not require that the defendant be held liable for injuries caused solely by the plaintiff's pre-existing condition and not the defendant's negligence.”
In other words, the issue at stake is whether the defendant's negligence caused the accident. If negligence can be shown, then damages must be awarded regardless if the injured party (plaintiff) suffered from a pre-existing condition.
However, if the plaintiff injures himself because of a pre-existing condition when there is no negligence on the part of anyone else, then the rule does not apply. For example, if you suffer from Parkinson's, fall, and break a leg while walking down a perfectly maintained city street, the city is not responsible to pay damages.
Illinois' Modified Comparative
Speaking of negligence, Illinois recognizes a legal principle known as the comparative negligence (or fault) rule. This means, in a popular saying, it takes two to tango.
If in the above example, the person who was rear-ended had a malfunctioning brake light, the claims adjuster or a jury in a trial might find the injured driver partially at fault for not maintaining a properly functioning brake warning system.
Say the driver is found 10 percent at fault and the settlement or court award is $20,000 for injuries and losses. The amount will be reduced by 10 percent to $18,000. If your portion of fault rises above 50 percent, you cannot collect anything from the other party.
Legal Advocacy You Can Trust
As you can see from above, applying the eggshell plaintiff rule can be tricky at times. You must show that the other party's negligence caused your injuries. You must also be able to explain and show through medical evidence or testimony how your new injuries go beyond any ongoing pain or suffering you face due to your pre-existing condition.
If you or a loved one is injured anywhere in or around Naperville, contact us at Marker & Crannell Attorneys at Law. Reach out immediately, and let us examine the circumstances of your accident and then negotiate with the insurer, or take the matter to court if that is what's called for. We will utilize the full range of our knowledge, experience, and resources to help obtain the just compensation you deserve. We proudly serve clients in Naperville, Plainfield, Lisle, Wheaton, Woodridge, Bolingbrook, Aurora, and Romeoville, Illinois.