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Can I Seek Damages if an Accident Aggravates an Existing Injury?

If you are injured in a car accident, you have the right to seek damages from the negligent driver. Damages include any medical bills incurred as a result of the accident. But what if a car accident merely aggravates a preexisting injury? Can you still recover damages even though the accident may not have caused the underlying injury?

Jury Ignored Law in Car Accident Lawsuit

In fact, according to the Tennessee Supreme Court, “Aggravation of a preexisting condition is a compensable element of damages.” As far as the law is concerned, a defendant “takes a plaintiff as he finds him.” So a defendant cannot use an existing injury as an excuse for negligent conduct that worsens the plaintiff’s condition.

Although this is a well-established principle in Tennessee law, some juries have a hard time applying this rule. Here is a recent example. The plaintiff in this case was injured when the defendant’s car rear-ended him.

The plaintiff had a number of preexisting back problems dating back to 1998, including neck pain following an earlier car accident. But according to a surgeon who treated the plaintiff, this most recent accident caused the plaintiff’s medical condition “to worsen to the point that surgery was necessary. As the surgeon testified at trial, the plaintiff had an already weakened disc in his back that was “herniated” by the accident caused by the defendant.

The defendant admitted liability for the accident, but she argued the plaintiff did not suffer a compensable injury. Although the defendant’s attorneys cross-examined the plaintiff’s medical experts, she did not present any contradictory expert testimony of her own. Nonetheless, the jury returned a verdict awarding no damages.

The Tennessee Court of Appeals reversed the jury’s verdict and granted the plaintiff’s request for a new trial on the issue of damages. While appellate courts normally do not second guess a jury’s decision, here the verdict was simply inconsistent as a matter of law. In cases where the plaintiff and defendant offer conflicting medical expert opinions, the jury is free to choose which side to believe. But in this case, according to the Court of Appeals, only the plaintiff provided expert testimony, which was not refuted by the defense.

In Tennessee, a jury cannot ignore the “unimpeached, uncontradicted testimony of a physician in respect to scientific information of which a layman would not be expected to have reliable knowledge.” In other words, since the plaintiff’s doctor testified the accident aggravated a preexisting injury, and the defense never refuted that testimony, the jury was required to award damages that were “minimally equal” to the medical expenses sustained by the plaintiff.

A Tennessee Personal Injury Attorney Can Help

Juries sometimes get it wrong. That is why you need to be prepared for the possibility of an appeal, and even a re-trial, when filing a personal injury lawsuit. An experienced Knoxville car accident attorney can assist you at all stages of litigation. Contact the offices of Fox, Farley, Willis & Burnette, Attorneys at Law, if you need to speak with a Clinton personal injury lawyer today.



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