How Do Pre-existing Conditions Impact Compensation After a Car Accident?
While all drivers in Atlanta, Georgia are required to carry car insurance in order to legally drive, in the event of an accident where injuries are sustained, compensation from the car insurance company is not always obtained. In cases where the injured party had a preexisting condition that could have contributed to the injury or/and occurred independently of the car accident, it is unlikely that the insurance company will be eager to pay. If you have been in a car accident in Atlanta, a car accident attorney can guide you through what you need to know about how a preexisting condition can impact your compensation amount. The following provides a brief overview as to what you need to know:
The first thing that is important to note is that Georgia is a traditional at-fault car insurance state. This means that, assuming the other driver involved in the accident was both at-fault for the accident and carries insurance, you will file a claim with his or her insurance company. It also means that you have the right to step outside of the insurance system and file a personal injury claim for damages directly against the at-fault driver. If you were not at-fault for the accident, you will not file a claim with your own insurance company unless the other driver is not insured and you carry uninsured motorist coverage (required in the state of Georgia).
All drivers are required to carry $25,000 per person and $50,000 per accident in bodily injury liability coverage. This coverage is designed to cover the costs of injuries that are sustained in an accident. However, it can often be confusing to differentiate between whether or not an injury was original, or if it was preexisting.
For example, if you were suffering from a diagnosed heart problem at the time of your accident, and experienced a heart attack when the car accident occurred, then the car insurance company may try to argue that the heart attack would have occurred regardless of the accident, and therefore the insurance company should not be liable for paying for it.
Or, if you had previously suffered from a knee injury that was still in remission, and injured your knee more severely in the car accident, determining to which extent the new injuries should be paid for by the insurance company (or by the at-fault individual in a lawsuit) can be complex.
Traditionally, here is what you need to know about preexisting conditions and car accident lawsuits: the at-fault party (or at-fault party’s insurance company) is only liable for those injuries that were caused or worsened as a direct result of the car accident. This is both Georgia law, and a precedent set by multiple cases, including Lovely v. Allstate Insurance Co. You cannot seek damages for any pre-existing injuries that were not aggravated by the accident.
In terms of economic damages, a claim is only worth those financial damages that are incurred from the accident (medical bills, property damage, lost wages), not any damages that occurred prior to the occurrence of the accident (i.e., you cannot recover damages paid prior to the accident for a preexisting knee injury, even if your knee injury was aggravated during the accident – only future damages are recoverable).
Because an insurance company or at-fault party is only responsible for those injuries that are new or aggravated, you must provide proof of new injuries vs. prior injuries. This can be extremely challenging to do, and you should be aware that it is likely that the insurance company will try to fight back hard to avoid paying as much as possible.
The best way to prove new injuries, or that your existing injuries have been aggravated—and require further medical care/expenses as a direct result—is with medical evidence. Your doctor’s narrative, your medical bills, and your full medical history, including all reports related to your existing and new injuries, may need to be disclosed during a claim in order to recover your full benefit amount.
While a doctor’s testimony and medical evidence are the two strongest evidence types when proving new injuries or aggravation of preexisting injuries, they are not the only ones; witness reports, police reports, video footage, physical damage and evidence from the car accident, and even your own testimony can all be key in proving that you sustained new injuries in the car accident, or that your existing injuries were worsened as a direct result.
In addition to trying to prove that your injuries from the car accident are not original, a car accident company may also try to argue that your damages amount should be reduced due to the partial fault on your behalf. This law, known as the law of comparative negligence, reads that a judge in such as case shall “reduce the amount of damages otherwise awarded to the plaintiff in proportion to his or her percentage of fault.”
In the event that the insurance company refuses to pay for injuries that you know to be new or know to have been worsened by the car accident, and a fair settlement cannot be reached, you may consider filing a lawsuit. During a lawsuit, you are entitled to recover all economic and noneconomic damages that you have incurred that would not have been sustained but for the actions of the at-fault driver. In Georgia, the statute of limitations for filing a personal injury lawsuit against another driver is two years, so it is imperative that you take action quickly.
Understanding the car insurance and tort systems can be confusing. To help you navigate the legal waters and recover your full damages amount even if you have a preexisting medical condition, contact an experienced Atlanta car insurance attorney. At Millar & Mixon, LLC, our injury attorneys are ready to help you prove that you deserve to be compensated for all injuries or aggravated injuries that are related to your accident, and that you were not at fault for the occurrence of your car accident. To schedule a consultation where you can discuss your claim with us in more detail, call us today at 404-620-4301.
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For more information, the team at the Millar and Mixon Law Firm, LLC are here to help. With years of experience helping victims of car accidents get the compensation they deserve, the team of attorneys at Millar and Mixon can help you too. Call today!
Car Accident Resources: After a Georgia Car Wreck