The “Eggshell” Plaintiff and Pre-Existing Conditions
It is common for someone involved in a motor vehicle crash to experience injuries. But what happens if the injured person already had an injury and the crash made it worse? For example, imagine a 60-year-old woman with degenerative disk disease is struck by another driver. The crash causes her back to suffer an injury greater than she otherwise would have if she had a healthy back. A defendant cannot argue that the injury isn’t his fault because of the preexisting back problems.
Colorado prohibits a defendant or its insurer from reducing a plaintiff’s damages due to a preexisting condition if the injury caused that condition to get worse. This is commonly called the “eggshell” plaintiff rule or the “thin skull” doctrine. Generally, this means a defendant takes the plaintiff as they found them and should not be rewarded by owing less damages because someone had a preexisting condition that was made worse.
At the end of trial, juries are given two instructions that explain this situation and how to determine damages when such circumstances exist.
The first instruction explains that a jury cannot reduce or refuse to award damages just because the plaintiff had a condition that made her more likely to suffer an injury than a healthy person. A jury is instructed in this manner if the plaintiff had an asymptomatic condition or a symptomatic condition if there is evidence the harm caused by the defendant is greater than it would have been if the condition didn’t exist.
The second instruction instructs the jury how to award damages where a preexisting condition exists. If a jury finds the plaintiff suffered from a preexisting condition, ailment, or disability and the defendant’s negligence made it worse, the jury is instructed to determine the amount of damages caused by the defendant’s conduct. If the injuries can be separated from before the accident and after the accident, then only the new damages are awarded. But if the damages cannot be separated, the jury is instructed to award damages for the entire amount of damages.
While this is all good news to a plaintiff with a preexisting condition, insurers are quite skilled at arguing around these two jury instructions. Typically, defendants and insurers will argue no new injury occurred or the plaintiff’s post-accident condition is the natural course of the preexisting condition and not the result of the defendant’s negligence.
If you have been injured in an auto accident and have a preexisting condition, you need a skilled and experienced lawyer to ensure you get the compensation you deserve and aren’t taken advantage of by an insurance company. The Bussey Law Firm is experienced with navigating this difficult scenario. We understand how to fight back against the insurance companies and get you what you deserve. If you need help with the consequences of being injured with a preexisting condition, call the Bussey Law Firm.