Personal Injury Blog

pre-existing injury

Car accidents don’t always cause a new injury, but they can aggravate previous neck or back injuries and other conditions. When an accident doesn’t cause an injury, but rather just aggravates existing injuries or medical conditions, many people may think they don’t have a claim. While it is true that you cannot recover compensation for a pre-existing condition or injury, you are entitled to compensation for the aggravation, increase in the severity of pain, or new treatment you’ll need to seek for the existing condition.

What is a Pre-Existing Medical Condition?

Before looking at the law, let’s get on the same page about pre-existing medical conditions. According to, a pre-existing condition is defined as “an injury, illness, or health issue that affected you before you were involved in a car accident.” In other words, you aren’t suffering from that particular health issue because of your car accident; the issue existed before the accident occurred. Of course, that doesn’t mean an accident can’t cause the condition to worsen or flare-up.

Car Accidents with Pre-Existing Injury: Laws & Insurance

If your pre-existing injury is aggravated in a car accident, insurance companies typically try to claim that the existence of a previous injury means you are not entitled to recover any compensation. So, after an accident, it’s essential that you call the police to report the incident and seek medical attention as soon as possible. Do not discuss your medical conditions with anyone except your doctor, lawyer, or loved ones, and do not sign anything the insurance adjuster may present to you.

The responsible party’s insurance company and lawyers will scrutinize your medical history, past and current physical condition, and the type of work you do for a living. They will strive to use the information they collect to minimize the amount of compensation that you will receive.

If your case goes to a jury trial, there is a Florida Standard Jury Instruction that informs jurors of your right to claim damages for aggravated pre-existing conditions. This is in section 501.5 “OTHER CONTRIBUTING CAUSES OF DAMAGES,” which discusses the aggravation or activation of disease or defect resulting from an accident. It states:

“If you find that the (defendant(s)) caused a bodily injury, and that the injury resulted in [an aggravation of an existing disease or physical defect] [or] [activation of a latent disease or physical defect], you should attempt to decide what portion of (claimant’s) condition resulted from the [aggravation] [or] [activation]. If you can make that determination, then you should award only those damages resulting from the [aggravation] [or] [activation]. However, if you cannot make that determination, or if it cannot be said that the condition would have existed apart from the injury, then you should award damages for the entire condition suffered by (claimant).”

So, what does it all mean? We will help to further explain some important terms and explore some points that you should consider.

Determining “Cause” and “Type of Causal Relationship” 

Although “cause” is the legal term for the specific reason for an injury, the legal phrase “type of causal relationship” can be interpreted in favor of the party who is defining it. Determining "cause" and "type of causal relationship" is vital, as it is a factor that aids in determining liability. 

Interpretations of "cause" and related definitions often are confusing, which is why insurance companies and defense lawyers attempt to use this lack of clarity to their benefit to find ways to avoid paying compensation.

Aggravation vs. Exacerbation in a Car Accident with Pre-Existing Injury

There are many legal terms used in car accident liability cases, so it’s important to use these legal definitions properly to maximize the compensation you deserve. According to the Workers’ Compensation Training Center, the following legal terms are often used in cases where someone has been in a car accident and has sustained injuries that affect pre-existing conditions:

  • Aggravation is “an increase in the severity of a pre-existing condition” where the underlying symptoms are permanently moved to a higher level of pain, discomfort, or illness.
  • Exacerbation is “a temporary increase in the symptoms of a pre-existing condition” that returns to its previous level within a reasonable period of time.

An Example of a Pre-Existing Condition Aggravated by an Accident

Let’s get hypothetical for a moment. Let’s say that you suffered a back injury at work ten years ago. Through treatment, the injury stopped interfering with your daily life, only causing a little bit of pain when you overexert yourself physically. Suddenly, you’re involved in a crash on a busy Florida highway, and the accident was not your fault. Now, your pre-existing back injury after the car accident is in major pain. You’re unable to get around easily, perform your job functions, or enjoy your normal activities. 

Because the accident aggravated your existing condition – even though it didn’t cause the condition – you can still recover compensation for your back injury. After all, if it hadn’t been for the carelessness of the other driver, your life wouldn’t have changed and you wouldn’t be suffering.

So, just how much can you get from a car accident with a pre-existing injury? It all depends, and that’s why it’s in your best interest to hire a personal injury attorney who will fight for your rights as a victim.

Don’t Let a Pre-Existing Condition Keep You from Pursuing Compensation

Do not avoid pursuing compensation for your injuries because of any pre-existing conditions. The compensation you may be eligible to receive for the aggravation of those existing injuries is dependent on you establishing a record of the severity of the injuries and how they affected you prior to the accident.

An experienced personal injury attorney will discuss your injuries with you, review your complete medical history, and advise you on the best course of action. Make sure to be honest with your attorney when you discuss your case and medical history. He or she can decide how to handle any information that may complicate your claim.

If you’ve been the victim of an accident that aggravated your pre-existing condition, you need the right team in your corner to make sure you receive the justice you deserve. The attorneys at Lowman Law Firm can help you navigate the complex challenges of the legal system to ensure your rights are protected.

Our auto accident attorneys serve all of Florida, with offices in Citrus County, Hernando County, Hillsborough County, and Pasco County. Not able to come to us? We’ll come to you! We offer free home and hospital consultations. And, there’s never a fee until you win your case.

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