Everyone is an Eggshell: The Legal Fiction of Preexisting Medical Conditions

 
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Everyone is an Eggshell: The Legal Fiction of Preexisting Medical Conditions
Written By: Josh Lowell ~ 4/15/2019

If you’ve ever been involved in a car accident, you know just how finicky insurance companies can be. Between the tedious forms, the rude adjusters, and the lowball negotiations, insurance companies use every trick and their disposal in order to pinch a few pennies. During our time as attorneys for national insurance companies, the Law Office of Magnuson Lowell PS has had the opportunity to scout out the insurance playbook and have detailed conversations with adjusters. While insurance companies are always on the lookout for hidden skeletons in your closet, their number one tactic is to uncover so-called preexisting medical conditions.

What is a preexisting medical condition regarding a motor vehicle accident? As with everything in the law, it depends on who you ask. If you ask an insurance adjuster, any minor ache or pain in the years (or even decade) before a motor vehicle collision constitutes grounds to limit settlement evaluations due to the existence of a preexisting medical condition. On the contrary, most personal injury attorneys, doctors, and even Washington courts agree that a preexisting condition only has limited relevancy after a car accident.

In 2004, the Washington Supreme Court ruled in the case Harris v Drake. This landmark personal injury litigation held that “When an accident lights up and makes active a preexisting condition that was dormant and asymptomatic immediately prior to the accident, the preexisting condition is not a proximate cause of the resulting damages.” In other words, unless there is evidence that your pre-accident medical condition was causing you problems in the weeks or months before an auto accident, the insurance company should be barred from arguing about the preexisting medical issue.

This ruling reflects the idea of the eggshell plaintiff. Every person on the face of the planet has some amount of degeneration in their body. Certainly, those of us who have gracefully aged over the years have more degeneration than our younger counterparts, but it still exists in every spine to some degree.

For example, we had a 45-year old client walk in the door after a mild car accident. Medical records and testimony from family clearly established the client had no symptoms of neck pain before the collision. However, imaging afterwards reflected a severely degenerated spine. Her medical provider testified that had it not been for her preexisting, dormant, and asymptomatic neck degeneration, she likely wouldn’t have needed surgery. However, an insurance company does not get to choose who their insured collided with, and adjuster doesn’t have the right to minimize post-accident injuries because the plaintiff was an eggshell more prone to cracking.

The insurance companies know these rules and laws. They just choose to ignore them while negotiating with injured parties. They figure that most injured drivers won’t know and won’t understand the law. Therefore, the insurance adjuster believes they can deny coverage or limit the settlement evaluation due to a regularly inadmissible medical issue.

Knowing your rights during a personal injury claim after a car accident is half the battle. Understanding that an insurance company is not allowed to take advantage of your preexisting condition will help bolster your leverage during negotiations. Moreover, having an aggressive personal injury attorney on your side will help push settlement talks in your favor. The Law Offices of Magnuson Lowell PS are experienced in dealing with issues of preexisting condition and will fight for the justice you deserve.

Call today for a free consultation (425)885-7500.
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