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Myrtle Beach, SC 29577
Under the “eggshell plaintiff rule,” pre-existing injuries do not prevent you from recovering damages after an auto accident or any other type of injury in South Carolina.
That won’t stop insurance companies from telling you that your recovery must be significantly reduced or that your claim must be denied completely based on a pre-existing injury – the insurance company will attempt to use every means possible to deny your claim or to pay you the least amount possible, including arguing that the car crash did not cause your injuries at all…
In this article, we will discuss the eggshell plaintiff rule in SC, including:
One reason insurance companies want to get all of your medical records, instead of just asking for the medical records related to the lawsuit, is because they are looking for any pre-existing injuries that they can claim are the source of your current injuries.
Although those records might be relevant and may need to be disclosed, you should always consult with your Myrtle Beach personal injury/ auto accident attorney before speaking with the insurance company or providing them with any documents or statements.
What the insurance company may not tell you is that a pre-existing injury does not let them off the hook.
Whether a plaintiff was particularly vulnerable to injury due to a pre-existing condition or had a pre-existing condition that was aggravated by the defendant’s conduct, the defendant (and their insurance company) is still liable for all injuries that were caused by the defendant’s conduct.
Defendants must accept the victim as they find them and are responsible for all injuries caused by their conduct including aggravation of prior injuries or injuries that an “ordinary” person may not have suffered.
The defendant/ insurance company cannot argue that they are not liable for injuries based on the plaintiff’s pre-existing conditions.
For example, consider who is liable if I push an elderly person who is in my way on a sidewalk. They fall to the ground, breaking several bones as they strike the pavement due to their osteoporosis. Soon after they are hospitalized, they suffer a heart attack (they had a pre-existing heart condition) and doctors are unable to save them.
Nevertheless, I am liable for the wrongful death caused by the assault and battery – I touched them without their consent, and that unwanted touch/push proximately caused a chain of events that resulted in their death (barring any intervening causes like provable medical malpractice).
Pre-existing injuries might make a difference when it comes to damages, however. The defendant is liable, but they are only liable for new injuries or the aggravation of the pre-existing injuries and not the pre-existing injury itself.
A negligent defendant is responsible for, inasmuch as is possible, placing the plaintiff in the position they were in before the injury (in this case, before the aggravation of the pre-existing injury). In many cases, this isn’t relevant – as in the example above where I shoved the elderly person causing them to fall, suffer broken bones, suffer a heart attack, and die.
When does it matter?
What if the plaintiff suffered a broken leg in a sports injury a month before they are again injured as a passenger in an auto accident? In the crash, their leg is re-injured, requiring additional surgeries to repair the damage.
The defendant is responsible for the additional surgeries and the pain and suffering caused by the re-injury, but the defendant is not responsible for the medical costs associated with the original injury.
South Carolina’s appellate courts have addressed pre-existing injuries in the context of personal injury claims, consistently finding that defendants are responsible for the aggravation of pre-existing injuries – including the payment of damages for pain and suffering and even when the pre-existing “injury” is a person’s alcoholism.
In Waring v. Johnson, for example, the SC Court of Appeals held that defendants are responsible for pain and suffering caused by the defendant’s re-injury of a pre-existing injury.
When the jury returned a verdict that compensated the plaintiff solely for her medical expenses, the trial judge granted a “new trial nisi additur” – giving the defendant the options of 1) agreeing to pay additional damages for the plaintiff’s pain and suffering or 2) retrying the case.
The Court of Appeals upheld the trial court’s decision:
In the instant case, the trial court did not err in granting a new trial nisi additur. The jury failed to consider Waring’s pain and suffering in reaching its verdict. Waring visited numerous doctors for years after the accident, seeking relief from varying degrees of pain and discomfort. She underwent surgery for a condition which numerous doctors testified was aggravated by the wreck. Waring took advantage of every recommendation of her physicians and, unfortunately, will most likely suffer pain for the remainder of her life. In addition to the pain she has and will continue to suffer, Waring found herself unable to continue her previous active lifestyle. Indubitably, Waring is entitled to an award for pain and suffering.
Similarly, in Raino v. Goodyear Tire Rubber Co., the SC Supreme Court held that the plaintiff’s alleged prior alcohol abuse problem was not relevant to contest the damages the plaintiff suffered due to her addiction to pain medications resulting from the crash:
Appellants also sought to introduce evidence of Raino’s use of alcohol on other occasions to contest the claims for damages arising from Raino’s addiction to pain medication. Appellants contend Raino had a prior alcohol abuse problem which created a propensity to develop addictions to other substances, such as the pain medication. This argument is without merit. The defendant takes the plaintiff as he is found and the plaintiff is entitled to recover damages resulting from the aggravation of a pre-existing condition. Watson v. Wilkinson Trucking Co., 244 S.C. 217, 136 S.E.2d 286 (1964). “As a general rule, liability for the consequences of one’s tortious act is not lessened by reason of the fact that the injuries were aggravated by the plaintiff’s unhealthy conditions due to his own bad habits.” 22 Am. Jur.2d Damages § 282 (1988).
If you have been hurt in a car accident, the other driver’s insurance company will most likely contact you soon after to attempt to get a recorded statement from you and to seek copies of your medical records – don’t do it.
Consult with an experienced auto accident attorney before talking to the insurance company.
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