Evidence of a Preexisting Condition Impacts Compensation

Key Points:

  • Medical evidence is needed to prove new or aggravated preexisting injuries in a car accident but is not the only source of reliable evidence.
  • Georgia is an at-fault insurance state.
  • Previous injuries can be compensated if they are aggravated by a car accident.

All Georgia drivers must carry automobile insurance in order to legally drive. However, getting compensation from insurance companies can be an uphill battle. A clear understanding of the process will help you recover for new or worsened injuries after an accident.

Georgia is an At-Fault Insurance State

The first thing to understand about car insurance is that it is a traditional at-fault state. This means that the insurance company of the person who is at fault for causing the accident will pay the costs for all involved parties. Therefore, it is paramount in a car accident personal injury case that the one who is responsible for the damages is determined and proven.

Generally, if you are not at fault in a car accident, there are three ways you can recover from your damages:

  • Filing a claim with your own insurance company (your insurance company will sue the other party’s insurance company to recover the cost)
  • Pursuing a claim against the other driver’s insurance company directly as a third-party claim
  • Filing a personal injury claim against the other driver(s) directly

Minimum Car Insurance Coverage in Georgia

  • $25,000 for each person for bodily injury
  • $50,000 for any injuries you cause in an accident
  • $25,000 to cover property damage in an accident

In Georgia motorists are required to carry bodily injury, liability, and property damage insurance. According to the Department of Motor Vehicles, motorists must carry:

If you are not at fault in an accident but you wish to recover compensation, you should not file a claim with your own insurance company unless the other driver is uninsured or underinsured and you carry uninsured motorist insurance.

Valuable Sources of Evidence in a Car Accident Case

Proving that your injuries were either the result of a car accident or worsened by the car accident can be a challenging hurdle to overcome. Even if you can prove that you have compensable injuries, your award may be lessened if you contributed to the accident.
The best method to prove new or worsened injuries is with medical evidence. Medical evidence can include a narrative from your doctor, your medical bills as a result of the accident, and your medical history, particularly regarding new or worsened injuries.
Although medical evidence is the most powerful source of information in a car accident case, it is far from the only source of valuable evidence. Other sources of evidence include:

  • police reports
  • witness testimony
  • your own testimony
  • physical damage to cars
  • video footage of the accident

Comparative Negligence

Your award in a car accident case may be reduced if you somehow contributed to the accident; this is known as the principle of comparative negligence, which reduces the amount awarded to a plaintiff in relation to their percentage of fault in the accident. For example, if a court finds that you are 30% at fault for accident, they will reduce any award the jury grants you by 30%.

The Statute of Limitations for a Car Accident Case in Georgia

It is also important to note that in Georgia there is a two-year statute of limitations on personal injury cases arising from car accidents. This means that you must file a case against another driver for your injuries within two years of the accident. If you fail to file within the two-year window, you will not be able to receive compensation for your injuries.

If You Have Prior Injuries that are Made Worse

Just because you were injured prior to a car accident doesn’t mean that you cannot be compensated if the accident makes the injury worse and requires additional medical care or time off from work. It is important to note that when dealing with an insurance company, you will be limited to economic damages. These are limited to financial damages, such as compensation for medical bills, property damage, and/or lost wages.

Two Jury Decisions Made Without Expert Witnesses

Getting a settlement from the insurance company is often, in the long run, the best course of action because it saves the costs of going to court and additional attorney fees. However, sometimes going to court is the only option.

In Hutcheson v. Daniels, 481 S.E.2d 567 (1997), a man had previously suffered from both a herniated disc and carpel tunnel syndrome but had gotten the conditions under control through the care of doctors. After being involved in a car accident, his ailments flared up again. The defendant attempted to avoid paying for Mr. Hutcheson’s medical expenses, claiming the injury was not caused by the accident and therefore they should not be liable.

Attorneys for the defense petitioned the court for a directed verdict, arguing that the jury was not qualified to determine whether or not Mr. Hutcheson’s preexisting conditions were inflamed by the accident. A directed verdict occurs when the plaintiff has failed to prove their case as a matter of law.

The court disagreed and denied the directed verdict, allowing the jury to decide. The jury ultimately found in favor of the plaintiff; the defendant appealed.
The appellate court found that when a significant amount of time has passed between the original injury and a car accident that causes the injury to flareup, the jury may decide without the testimony of expert witnesses whether the accident aggravated the injury.

The Role of Appellate Courts in Personal Injury Cases

When the appellate court hears a personal injury case, they attempt to view the case from all possible angles, for our laws are based on common sense and critical thinking. Many people unfamiliar with the law assume that if they have a preexisting condition that is made worse by a car accident, they are disqualified from compensation. The Hutcheson v. Daniels case shows, depending on the circumstances, such an assumption may be wrong.

Damages for Preexisting Conditions Are Not Automatically Excessive

In AT Sys. Southeast, Inc. v. Carnes, 613 S.E.2d 150 (2005), a woman was riding in a minivan that was struck by an armored truck. The armored truck driver admitted to being at fault for the accident.

The woman was severely injured in the accident, including suffering a fractured hip that caused blood clots in her legs which traveled to her lungs. These blood clots were admittedly aggravated by the fact that she was overweight and suffered from poor circulation.

Because of the blood clots, the woman had to undergo surgery and was immobile for at least six months.

At trial, the jury found for the plaintiff, stating that her injuries were indeed debilitating; they granted her an award of $1,250,000. The defense appealed.

The defense claimed that the amount was flagrantly excessive and went against the evidence provided in court. They also asserted that the judge had made several errors and therefore they were entitled to a mistrial even though their driver had admitted fault for the accident.

The Appellate Court took no issue with the jury’s verdict and refused to distinguish between the pain-and-suffering of a retired grandmother and that of a high-powered executive. This means that the court can consider each life to be just as valuable and worth living as another’s, and therefore people can be compensated if they lose their ability to fully function regardless of their economic status.

Neck Injuries

Neck injuries are a very common result of car accident. In a 2012 case, a woman and her fiancé were rear ended by a commercial truck. The woman suffered damage to her C5 and C6 vertebrae, requiring surgery. She claimed $88,262 in medical costs and damages for her pain and suffering; her fiancée claimed damages as well.

The truck driver had a $300,000 limit on his policy. The woman ended up settling for a total recovery of $282,695 but her fiancé did not receive a settlement.

The Millar Law Firm Legal Disclaimer

With 26 years’ experience The Millar Law Firm can help you, and your family, navigate the process of filing a personal injury lawsuit. Contact us today for your free, no-risk consultation!

Questions Answered:

  • Are Georgia drivers required to carry liability insurance?
  • How much liability should Georgia drivers carry?
  • What type of evidence do we need to prove an injury from a car accident?
  • What is comparative negligence?
  • Can you be compensated for preexisting conditions in a car accident?
  • What is the statute of limitations for filing a personal injury lawsuit?

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