Preexisting conditions come up a lot in health insurance questions, but they are also important factors in other areas of the law, especially when it comes to injury cases. Trying to prove that you were injured in an accident when you already had an injury can make it hard to parse out what came from this accident and what was already there. Additionally, you could face accusations that your injury was caused by your condition, not the dangerous circumstances the defendant created.
Under the law in Maryland, you can receive compensation for an injury even if you have a preexisting condition, but only to the extent that this accident caused your injury or made the previous condition worse. You can never receive compensation for the effects of an injury that were already there before the accident. Additionally, preexisting conditions should not be factored into fault. Even so, different types of preexisting conditions and injuries come into play in different types of injury cases, potentially being important to the case’s outcome.
For a free case review for an injury claim, call Rice, Murtha & Psoras’ Maryland personal injury attorneys at (410) 694-7291.
Can You Sue for an Injury if it Worsened a Preexisting Condition in Maryland?
If you sue for an accident, one of the primary defenses that the other side will put forward is that your injuries happened in a different accident or were already there before this accident. This paints you as someone who is trying to pass another injury off as part of this claim. But in many cases, people do have preexisting injuries or conditions, and the law in Maryland still lets them get compensation in a new lawsuit or insurance claim.
Generally, you can sue for any injuries that result from an accident. For example, if you slipped and fell on a store’s un-shoveled sidewalk and broke your leg, you should be entitled to sue them for the broken leg. If you were walking on crutches when the accident happened because your ankle was already sprained, but now it’s broken, you should still be able to sue for your broken leg.
The preexisting injury in this case will be separated out from the new injury. For example, if you already had $1,000 in medical bills for your sprained ankle but now this broken leg costs you $5,000, you can sue for $5,000. The $1,000 from your sprained ankle will never be claimed in this lawsuit because it happened elsewhere, but the fact that your leg was already sprained does not stop you from suing for the break.
This can get complicated when an accident opens an old wound or re-injures an old injury. For example, if your leg was already broken and it re-breaks, you can still sue for the new medical care you needed, the worsened condition of your leg, and the new pain and suffering that you faced.
Worsened Conditions and Re-Injury in Maryland Injury Cases
As mentioned, the fact that you re-injured an existing injury or re-opened an old wound in a new accident does not prevent you from getting compensation for that new injury. Our Maryland personal injury lawyers can cut off claims at the time of the accident and claim compensation for you for any harm that resulted from that point forward, including a worsening of a previous condition or re-injury in the accident at hand.
Often, this means separating the preexisting pain and suffering, medical bills, and other damages from the new ones. So for example if you had a broken leg and it stopped you from working and enjoying your weekly bicycle trips, a re-break might lead to additional time away from work beyond what you were already going to face. You can get compensation for the new damages on top, but not for the old damages.
With a broken bone, for example, you might face 6-8 weeks off work – let’s say 7 as an average. If your new accident happened 2 weeks into your 7-week healing process, you’re still expected not to go back to work for 5 weeks anyway. If your healing time now resets, you’ll face 7 weeks of healing time left and ultimately miss 2 additional weeks of work than you would have before. Thus, because of this new accident, you can sue for the 2 weeks of lost wages, but not the next 5 weeks that you were going to miss anyway.
As another example, imagine you had a bad back already, but a new injury really increases the pain and suffering you face. If you went from 2 flare-ups of pain a month to 14 after the accident, you would essentially only receive pain and suffering damages for the 12 new flare-ups.
“Eggshell Skull” Rule in Maryland Injury Cases
If you suffered more harm in your accident than most ordinary people would have because you already had an injury or condition, the defendant cannot get off the hook because you were “more fragile” than other people. They are still responsible for injuring you even if another person who did not share your condition might have been able to avoid injury.
This is traditionally known as the “eggshell skull” rule, using the hypothetical example of a plaintiff injuring their skull made of eggshell. Even if a “normal person’s” head would have been okay after the accident, the fact that this plaintiff’s skull broke still allows them to sue.
In more realistic examples, this often comes up in cases where elderly or disabled people are injured. Because of their preexisting conditions – or simply because of their age – they might be less able to walk around, maintain stability, or see where they are going as well as other people. The law still allows them to sue in many instances where perhaps a healthier, younger person might have avoided injury.
Similar rules also allow compensation even for surprisingly severe injuries, focusing on whether the injury is “foreseeable” or not, not how high or low the chance of that specific injury is. For example, most people in a slip and fall might break a bone or sprain an ankle. If someone hits their head, suffers a brain bleed, and dies, that is unlikely but certainly a possibility. The law allows their family to sue for their death even if that accident was rare – and even if something like a preexisting health condition made their brain more vulnerable to injury than the average person’s brain.
Examples of Preexisting Conditions in Various Types of Injury Cases in Maryland
Some of the examples used above are somewhat obvious examples of preexisting injuries and how they might affect an accident case. However, our Baltimore personal injury lawyers deal with a wide range of accident cases, and the following are some additional examples of the kinds of preexisting injuries might come into play in these various types of cases and how courts might resolve these issues:
Preexisting Conditions in Car Accidents
If you suffered additional harm because you already had an injury or some kind of disability that made you more vulnerable to injury, you can still get full compensation for the injuries that a car accident causes you.
Just because someone has a broken bone that is vulnerable to impact or something like brittle bone disease that makes them more likely to face injuries in a crash does not mean that they have to stay away from cars. The core cause of the accident here is the other driver’s violations or unsafe driving, and they should be held liable for any and all injuries that result, even if they were only made possible because of the victim’s preexisting conditions.
However, some conditions and disabilities make it illegal to drive. If you ignore the law and drive anyway, your preexisting condition can actually be used to hold you responsible for driving unsafely. Obviously, a blind person should not drive and would likely be at fault for causing a crash if they did try to drive. But other health conditions like epilepsy could also disqualify someone from being able to legally drive and put them at fault for an accident caused by their health condition.
Preexisting Conditions in Premises Liability Accidents
Injuries involving structural collapses, slip and falls, trip and falls, falls from heights, drowning, and other similar accidents on someone else’s property are the most likely to deal with a preexisting injury or disability. A broken ankle, use of a walker or wheelchair, and other conditions that make it harder to get around often increase the risk of injury from dangerous conditions.
Ultimately, courts look at whether an alleged danger is objectively dangerous, but they must take the totality of the circumstances into consideration. The fact that a property owner did not expect someone in a wheelchair to come to their property might not make a difference when it comes to what their duty is. For example, fire codes usually require accommodations to keep disabled people from dying in an apartment fire. The fact that the building had no disabled tenants at the time will be no excuse for a guest in a wheelchair suffering serious burns or smoke inhalation because the owner failed to keep the apartment up to code.
When it comes to the proper care that a doctor should provide a patient, the specific circumstances of the patient’s condition, what the doctor knows, when the doctor knows it, and what tests and technology are available to the doctor will all play into whether the doctor’s care was negligent or not. Preexisting conditions sometimes come into play by making it more important for a doctor to take steps that they would not take with other patients, potentially raising the bar for malpractice.
For example, if a 16-year-old comes into the ER with chest pain, most doctors would probably rule out a heart attack because of the patient’s age. However, if the teen explains that they have a heart condition and already had 3 heart attacks in their young life, a doctor who ignores the possibility of a heart attack is likely liable for the results of the misdiagnosis if it turns out the patient did have a heart attack.
Similar cases happen all the time, with doctors overlooking things like hypertension, autoimmune disorders, previous surgeries, endometriosis, complications with previous pregnancies, and more. In many situations, these conditions coincide with the patient’s race or sex and might constitute discrimination as well as negligence.
While birth injuries fall under the category of “medical malpractice,” there are some unique situations where a preexisting injury is treated quite differently in the birth injury context.
First, many “birth injuries” result because the doctor overlooked a preexisting condition or the mere risk of a preexisting condition. For example, if the mother or the baby is found to have a condition that leads to a high-risk pregnancy and the doctor fails to take additional precautions or order a C-section instead of vaginal delivery, it might result in harm that could have been prevented.
Another very unique situation is in “wrongful birth” cases. In these, the doctor often overlooks a known medical condition or fails to test the fetus for a condition they might be at a high risk of having. Often, conditions of this nature would mean the pregnancy is not viable and should have been terminated to prevent the mother or the baby from suffering unnecessarily. When the doctor makes mistakes or fails to consider substantial risks, they can be responsible for failing to allow termination and delivering a baby that dies or causes preventable death or injury to the mother.
Employers often blame work injuries on preexisting injuries or conditions. It is a common refrain from employers and Workers’ Compensation insurance carriers to claim that an injury happened outside of work and that the worker is lying or committing fraud by trying to pass it off as a work injury. Alternatively, they might claim that the victim already had a preexisting injury, so it wasn’t their work conditions that caused something like a herniated disc or cancer. Our lawyers often have to use medical records, experts, and substantial evidence to link an injury to a work-related accident and avoid these defenses that a preexisting injury or an accident outside of work was actually responsible for your injuries.
Call Our Maryland Personal Injury Lawyers Today
For help with a personal injury claim, reach out to Rice, Murtha & Psoras at (410) 694-7291 for a free case evaluation with our Aberdeen personal injury attorneys.