Can a Previous Injury Affect An Auto Accident Claim?

A woman with a neck injury sitting in a waiting room

You’re driving to work. All of a sudden, a car runs a red light. It strikes you. The force of the impact results in a tear to your rotator cuff. The injury is painful and requires surgery. You have other serious injuries. Because your case meets the threshold to file a third-party injury claim, you notify the driver’s insurance policy. However, when you bring your claim to the insurance company, they try to deny your rotator cuff claim.

The insurance company says that your rotator cuff injury is the result of a pre-existing condition. They claim that you need the rotator cuff surgery because of a previous injury and not because of the accident. They say they don’t have to pay you. Is that true? Our Florida car accident attorneys explain car accidents and pre-existing conditions.

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Can a Previous Injury Affect An Auto Accident Injury Claim?

Yes, a previous injury can affect an auto accident injury claim. You may legally claim compensation to the extent that your pre-existing condition is made worse because of the accident. If it’s impossible to distinguish the new injuries from the pre-existing condition, then you deserve compensation for the entire extent of the injuries, including treatment and pain and suffering.

A previous injury can affect an auto accident injury claim by reducing the amount of your recovery to the amount that represents only new injuries sustained in the accident itself.

Previous Injury Before Car Accident

When you have previous injuries before a car accident, they may impact your car accident claim. Rest assured, you very much have the right to recover for your damages. In fact, the law protects your interests well. You have the right to claim compensation for your damages.

The question that arises in cases of pre-existing injuries is what your damages from the car accident actually are. The law provides you the opportunity to have your new damages from the car accident covered. What the law doesn’t do is give a victim a windfall of funding to receive medical care for conditions they have before the accident. Personal injury laws, including car accident laws, intend to place the financial burden on the person who causes the accident. For that reason, the responsible party pays the victim for the damages that occur from the accident — not more and not less.

Florida Jury Instructions for Pre-Existing Conditions

Florida has jury instructions for pre-existing conditions. Florida civil jury instruction 501.5 states the jury instruction for deciding a car accident or personal injury case when the victim has a pre-existing condition.[1] The judge instructs the jury that if they find the victim’s injuries are an aggravation of an existing injury, the jury should determine what portion of the injury results from the accident and what is pre-existing. The jury then awards the victim compensation for only those injuries that are the result of the accident.

The jury instructions are what the judge reads to the jury at the end of the case. The jury doesn’t look up the law themselves. They don’t conduct research, either. Instead, the judge tells them what the law is. The jury depends on what the judge tells them to evaluate the facts and reach their verdict. Because the jury uses the instructions to decide the case, they’re very important.

Your attorney should be sure to request the proper jury instructions. It’s an integral part of your trial. One of the ways that your attorney advocates for you is by ensuring that you have a fair trial, which includes having the right jury instructions. In closing arguments, your attorney must explain to the jury how the facts apply to the jury instructions and why you deserve the compensation that you’re looking for.

What Happens When You Can’t Distinguish Between Old and New Injuries?

The jury is supposed to compensate the car accident victim for only new injuries that result from the car accident itself. So what happens when it’s impossible to tell when the injuries are new and when they’re pre-existing?

If it’s impossible to distinguish between the old and new injuries, then the victim receives compensation for all of the damages relating to the injuries. The jury instructions say that if the jury cannot determine what would have been awarded apart from the pre-existing conditions, they award damages for the entire condition.

Aggravated Injury After Car Accident

Car Accident Aggravated Pre-Existing Condition Settlement

To reach the best car accident settlement, it’s essential to work with medical experts. The experts can help you prove that you have new damages from the accident. They can help you definitively establish what damages are from the accident and ultimately what compensation you deserve. A car accident settlement involving a pre-existing condition should include the accurate amount of compensation based on the law.

Florida Case Law on Pre-Existing Conditions

An example of a Florida case law on pre-existing conditions is Hambien Inc. v. Owens.[2] The 1937 Florida case is about a victim who fell from a step ladder. The victim ended up needing to have his leg amputated because of the fall. However, the victim had a previous injury to the leg that resulted in bacteria existing in the leg. The defendant argued that the bacteria contributed to the leg injury.

The court stated that where injuries aggravate an existing ailment, the defendant must be responsible for the result of their actions. In other words, even though there are provisions for pre-existing conditions, the defendant must still compensate the victim for the true damages that come from the accident. Even if another victim who is younger or in better health may not have had the same damages, the defendant doesn’t get to choose their victim. Whatever your damages are, to the extent that they result from the accident or are made worse by the accident, the defendant must compensate the victim fully.

Related: What if My Medical Bills Exceed the Defendant’s Auto Policy Limits?

Contact Our Experienced Tampa Car Accident Lawyers

Let The Tampa car accident lawyers at Jack Bernstein, Injury Attorneys help you maximize your injury claim. We can help you address pre-existing conditions to ensure you get full compensation under Florida law. There is no fee unless you win.

Get your free legal consultation regarding your Auto Accident Claims Today.


[1] Florida civil jury instructions; Section 500. (n.d.)

[2] Hamblen, Inc., v. Owens, 127 Fla. 91 (Fla. 1937)