If I Have a Pre-Existing Condition Can I Make a Claim for Pain and Suffering After a New York Car Accident? 

Posted: March 13, 2023

It’s a familiar argument voiced by insurance adjusters every day across New York State. “The MRI shows degenerative disc disease.” “There are two prior losses.” “Our doctor found a pre-existing condition.”  


If you are hearing this from an adjuster employed by the other driver’s insurance company, you are not alone. This is a common tactic employed by insurance companies to convince injured people that their injuries are not related to a car accident caused by an insured, but instead some prior remote trauma or a naturally occurring degenerative condition. Some insurance companies may even claim that a prior medical condition completely absolves their insured from bodily injury liability. The insurance company’s aim is to reduce risk and costs, not to make a “fair” offer that adequately accounts for past and future pain and suffering.  


After a New York car accident causes injury, it is important to anticipate and guard against these types of arguments – especially where there truly is proof of a prior car accident or pre-existing degenerative disc disease.  


While such proof may serve as a potential obstacle when seeking compensation for pain and suffering, it is just that: an obstacle that can be potentially overcome because New York law recognizes the concept that those who cause injury to others on the road take them as they are.  


In other words, in what some people refer to as the “eggshell” plaintiff rule, if someone has an increased susceptibility to injury because of a prior condition, the person who worsens or aggravates the prior condition can still be responsible.  


Consider the following example. Say someone slipped and fell a couple decades ago, herniating an intervertebral disc in the lower back. This was a very serious injury that required surgery, but after that surgery the person felt fine for years until a car accident re-triggered the same or similar symptoms. The insurance company may point to decades-old medical records and argue that post accident symptoms and limitations are the result of a pre-existing condition. At first blush, this argument may seem persuasive, but it will ultimately fail if the injured person can establish that the trauma of the car accident aggravated or exacerbated any prior condition, leading to increased disability. 


Pre-existing medical conditions can sometimes get tricky. New York is a no-fault insurance state, and most motorist injured on its roads must show a “serious injury” to recover for pain-and-suffering. Courts have developed a somewhat intricate body of case law surrounding pre-existing conditions, and a successful recovery for pain and suffering will generally require the injured person to navigate this sometimes confusing area of law. 


An experienced New York personal injury attorney can examine medical records and build a case that someone with a pre-existing condition or degenerative disc disease is entitled to compensation for pain-and-suffering. This will often involve medical proof that any prior condition was worsened, leading to increased disability. This may involve new findings in diagnostic imaging studies, increased range of motion loss, or a detailed comparison of what the injured person was able to perform before and after the collision.     


If you were injured in a New York car accident, don’t let the insurance company tell you that you have no claim because of a pre-existing condition or degenerative disc disease. The attorneys at William Mattar, P.C. would be honored to review the circumstances of your case to see if they can help. They are committed to helping injured motorists receive maximum compensation.  

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