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Pre-Existing Injuries: Jury Instructions and Case Law

Following a car accident, motorcycle crash, trucking (‘big-rig’) accident or other personal injury, it is of utmost importance for the injury victim to provide to his/her lawyer full disclosure of any and all pre-existing injuries, complaints and issues on the same parts of the victim’s body that were harmed in the underlying accident. Our other blog post discussed this topic (see Pre-Existing Injuries in a Personal Injury Claim), but this blog will provide not only a further discussion of the subject, but will highlight prior cases and jury instructions applicable to pre-existing injuries. Under California law, the victim of a personal injury accident is not allowed to recover compensation for any injuries that pre-existed the accident. However, they are entitled to compensation for exacerbation of or an increase to their prior injuries. When an injury victim fails to disclose a prior injury to their attorney and that injury is later identified by or disclosed to the at-fault party, the victim’s credibility is greatly harmed and the value of his/her case is likewise diminished. When an at-fault party (or insurance company) questions the honesty of the victim because they have not been forthright in disclosing prior issues dealing with the same parts of their body injured in the car crash or other auto accident, they invariably give little credence to the rest of the complaints the victim asserts, and as such, put less value on their claim. Under California Jury Instructions 3927, the victim must prove the following in order to collect compensation from the negligent party for making their prior conditions worse: “[Name of plaintiff] is not entitled to damages for any physical or emotional condition that [he/she] had before [name of defendant]’s conduct occurred. However, if [name of plaintiff] had a physical or emotional condition that was made worse by [name of defendant]’s wrongful conduct, you must award damages that will reasonably and fairly compensate [him/her] for the effect on that condition.” Notice that the language of the instruction does not limit pre-existing conditions to mere physical ones; rather, it also accounts for any emotional conditions with which the accident victim may have been dealing prior to the auto accident or other injury-causing event. The court in Hastie vs. Handeland (1969) held that “a tortfeasor may be held responsible where the effect of his negligence is to aggravate a preexisting condition or disease” annd the court in Ng vs. Hudson (1977) held that a “plaintiff may recover to the full extent that his condition has worsened as a result of the defendant’s tortious act.” If you have been injured in a car, truck or motorcycle crash or other accident, contact our injury lawyer for a consultation today.

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