Will a Previous Injury Keep You From Getting Compensation After a Car Accident?

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Sometimes, a small stone thrown into the water can cause a huge rippling wake. The legal principle known as the Eggshell Rule, sometimes referred to as the Eggshell Skull Rule, a common doctrine in personal injury law, resulted from a small tap and a curious outcome. 

The Eggshell Rule got its start back in 1890 with Vosburg v, Putney, in a tiny courtroom in Waukesha, Wisconsin. In the small village outside of Milwaukee, the Union School was in session. 

Andrew Vosburg, a fifteen-year-old, was a sickly boy from a poor family. He looked weak from illness and always seemed to be recovering from some ailment. A year earlier, he had been in a sledding accident and injured his leg. 

Sitting across the aisle from Andrew was 11-year-old George Putney. His family was wealthy. He was a hearty boy known for bullying Andrew. 

On a frigid day in February 1889, the school bell sounded, bringing the kids in from their noon recess. As the children took their seats, George swung a leg across the aisle toward Andrew. George’s foot connected with Andrew’s leg, just below the knee. Whether the kick was a tap or a wallop, no one knows. 

What is known is that Andrew sat quietly at first. Minutes later, Andrew began to weep—quiet tears at first, but it built into a wail. His leg was so injured that he needed to be carried from the classroom. He limped home, and the next day, he tried to return to school but could not make it a full day. In a few days, the infection in his leg would worsen until a fever left him bedridden. This led to a series of surgeries, ultimately leaving Andrew crippled. 

The Putney’s tried to pay for Andrew’s medical bills, but Andrew’s father rejected the offering, telling them that Andrew would never be able to earn a wage or work like other boys. George was arrested for criminal assault, found guilty, and fined $10 by a justice.

Andrew’s family filed a civil lawsuit against the now 12-year-old George. For two days, arguments were made, and witnesses were called. It was discovered that George’s light kick was to get Andrew’s attention, and he had no malice intent to cause physical injury. 

The case shifted to question causation. It was established that Andrew’s leg was already injured when George touched it. Andrew’s lawyers argued that George’s contact triggered the crippling illness that left him forever lame. They brought in doctors to testify that George’s kick was the “exciting” cause of Andrew’s leg bone becoming disabled. 

The defense urged the jury to consider this as an innocent accident, and George meant no harm and should not be held liable for the unfortunate injuries that resulted from a simple tap. 

After a full day and night of deliberation, the jury confirmed that George acted knowingly, and his small conscious act caused a big problem for Andrew. They awarded the Vosburg family $2,500. 

The Putney’s immediately appealed the verdict. George’s tiny tap to a shin turned into a legal nightmare consisting of a criminal trial, three civil trials, four appeals, a revolving wheel of legal fees and court costs, a reversal on a technicality, and various unpaid settlements.

But it also resulted in establishing the Eggshell Rule – A doctrine that prevents the reduction of a defendant’s liability despite a plaintiff’s susceptibility to injury because of pre-existing conditions.

The Current State of Pre-Existing Injuries and Iowa Car Accidents

There are few people who can say they are in perfect health. In the course of a life, injuries happen. Some of these injuries linger and become ongoing health problems. 

In the state of Iowa, having a pre-existing condition should not get in the way of the right to fair compensation if these conditions are aggravated or worsened by a car accident. If a driver was careless and responsible for a car crash, they should be held accountable regardless of a victim’s health status before the crash.

Because it is a right does not make it easy. Insurance claim managers will usually try to argue that the damage was already done by the time the crash occurred. It is a common tactic employed by insurance companies to work around the Eggshell Rule. 

But there are ways to protect against these tactics. When pre-existing conditions are part of the equation, there is a list of preventative measures: 

  • Do not claim perfect health before the crash if it is not true – The first instinct of many is to hide pre-existing injuries or lingering pain before an accident. The past will always come back around, and past medical bills are no exception. Be truthful. A lie can jeopardize or destroy a personal injury case. Compensation can be sought for an aggravated condition just as easily as an injury resulting from a car accident. 
  • Do see the same doctors post-crash that treated the pre-existing conditions before the crash – New doctors and a fresh start may not be the best idea for car crash victims with pre-existing conditions. A familiar doctor can see the pre-and-post crash differences and levels of aggravation or worsened conditions. If a new doctor is the only option, a full health history should be provided.
  • Do explain in full how the pre-crash conditions and the post-crash conditions differ – Provide new or changing symptoms of the aggravated injury. Explain new physical limitations after the accident. Accept any medical treatments required to manage the pain.
  • Do understand people with pre-existing conditions usually need an expert to receive fair injury settlements – Insurance companies are usually not easy to deal with and will try to avoid responsibility. A pre-existing condition just gives them another argument to evade a fair settlement. Experts can investigate the case, collect evidence, and negotiate with the injured best interests in mind.

The Iowa car accident attorneys at Mueller, Schmidt, Mulholland & Cooling have the back of those dealing with pre-existing conditions aggravated in a car crash. If an expert is needed, contact us.