Thursday, September 25, 2014

Is the other Party Liable for Damages if I have a Pre-Existing Condition?

The simple answer is yes, another party may still be liable for an injury that occurred even if that injury aggravated a pre-existing condition or triggered an illness to happen sooner than it was likely going to happen on its own.  Additionally, someone may be still liable for injuring or causing an old injury to flare up again.  Just because someone is more fragile or likely to succumb to certain injuries, does not provide the tortfeasors immunity from negligent acts.  This is sometimes called the “Eggshell Skull” defense.  The idea is that even if someone may have a condition that makes them predisposed to injury, the other party is not off the hook for negligence when compromising that condition. 

 The “eggshell skull” rule commonly applies in the following circumstances:

·         triggering of a previously latent condition;
·         aggravation of a condition that was formerly under control;
·         exacerbation of a preexisting bodily or psychological disorder or disease; and
hurrying or speeding up of a disability or death.

In Silva v. Stein, a woman went to her local beauty salon for a perm. Silva v. Stein, 527 So. 2d 934 (Fla. Dist. Ct. App. 1988). Ms. Stein told her stylist that she sometimes reacts strongly to chemical solutions. Even though Ms. Stein had high susceptibility to certain chemicals, the stylist decided to still give Ms. Stein the perm.  Shortly after her perm, Ms. had an extremely rare immunological reaction to the chemicals in the perm. Ms. Stein brought a negligent claim for her reaction to the chemicals.  The beautician argued that no one could have possibly foreseen this strange reaction to the perm, thus she could not be liable for damages.  The jury did not agree and awarded Ms. Stein damages for the unfortunate event. The stylist appealed and the jury verdict was once again upheld by Chief Judge Schwartz. The Judge reasoned that “the defendant is responsible for whatever adverse consequences the plaintiff suffers—whether they are ‘foreseeable’ or not. It is the familiar but accurate doctrine that ‘the tort feasor takes the plaintiff as he finds him’ which is instead controlling.”( Silva v. Stein, 527 So. 2d 934 (Fla. Dist. Ct. App. 1988).   The judge in this case makes clear that even though you are more likely than others to be injured, the negligent party still must pay damages. 

This “eggshell” type of liability is not just applicable in unfortunate perms.   The exacerbation of preexisting conditions occurs in car accidents as well.  For example, Loras Benn was rear-ended while he was in the passenger seat of a car and suffered a bruised chest and a broken ankle. Benn v. Thomas, 512 N.W.2d 538 (Iowa 1994).  Loras Benn tragically died from a heart attack just days later. Mr. Benn’s estate sued the driver of the car who crash into him for money damages. Mr. Benn had a history of heart issues and would have possibly lived a shortened life due to his heart condition. The defendant contended that they should not be liable because a heart condition was present and it was just a matter of time before Mr. Benn would die due to his heart disease. The Iowa Supreme Court did not accept the plaintiff’s arguments and ruled in favor of Mr. Benn’s estate. The court reasoned that under the eggshell rule, a defendant could be responsible for all injuries resulting from the accident, even if the plaintiff suffers injuries more severe than what an average individual would have suffered in the same situation. When the negligent act results in injury to a person with a pre-existing ailment, it is the action, and not the disorder, that is the cause of the injury. This rule imposes liability irrespective of whether the precise injury suffered was foreseeable.
In Florida, juries are regularly told that they must rule in favor of someone who had a disorder aggravated due to the fault of someone else. 

If you find that the defendant caused a bodily injury, and that the injury resulted in an aggravation of an existing disease or physical defect or activation of a latent disease or physical defect, you should attempt to decide what portion of claimant’s condition resulted from the aggravation or activation. If you can make that determination, then you should award only those damages resulting from the aggravation or activation. However, if you cannot make that determination, or if it cannot be said that the condition would have existed apart from the injury, then you should award damages for the entire condition suffered by claimant. 

This means that that even though a previous illness or condition might have been present, the jury needs to decide what part of the current injury is the wrongdoer’s fault.  Also, the jury may decide that the wrongdoer should be liable for the entire injury.  You should not feel discouraged from taking legal action if you aggravated an old injury due to the fault of someone else.    

If you, or someone you know, have aggravated or exacerbated a latent disease or defect, you should consult with a law firm with experience handling these types personal injury claims to ensure that you, the victim, receive the maximum compensation for your injuries, pain and suffering, or future loss of income. The Dolman Law Group serves personal injury clients all over the state of Florida from their conveniently located Clearwater office. Call for a case evaluation today at 727-451-6900, and rest assured that our team is ready and willing to take the case as far as necessary to reach an appropriate resolution for your case.

800 North Belcher Road
Clearwater, FL 33765
(727) 451-6900