What Happens When A Car Accident Aggravates a Pre-Existing Injury?

pexels-photo-1028742Sometimes, car accidents happen. Someone speeds, gets distracted, or makes a mistake that causes an accident. Crashes can be unexpected. No one gets to decide what time of day it happens, where it happens, or who gets injured. Instead, you have to take the whole situation as it is. 

Jay Schwartzberg (“Plaintiff”) was a 23-year-old law student on April 25, 2013 when the driver of an armored van failed to yield to Schwartzberg’s vehicle and caused a collision in East Baton Rouge, Louisiana. Prior to the accident, Schwartzberg suffered from a bulging of the C3-C4 and C6-C7 intervertebral discs and chronic neck pain. In the lawsuit, he argued that the collision on April 25, 2013 exacerbated these previous injuries. Schwartzberg filed against the defendants seeking damages for his neck injury due to the collision. The trial court awarded Schwartzberg $49,999.99 worth of damages, plus legal fees. 

Miller Guillory and his employer, Garda CL Southeast, Inc. (collectively “Defendants”) appealed the trial court’s award for two reasons. First, the Defendants argued that the trial court erred in finding that the collision caused an aggravation to the Plaintiff’s pre-existing neck injury. Second, the defendants argue that the trial court erred in the amount of damages awarded because the court relied on Schwartzberg’s expert witness that was contradictory to the medical records and other evidence admitted at trial. 

Louisiana adheres to the “eggshell skull” rule, meaning that the defendant can be liable for actions even if the injured plaintiff has a prior condition that the defendant is unaware of prior to the incident. It is the plaintiff’s burden to prove by a preponderance of the evidence, more likely than not, that a prior injury existed before the accident and there exists a causal relationship between a new injury and the accident that caused it. American Motorist Ins. Co. v. American Rent-All, Inc., 579 So.2d 429, 433 (La. 1991). To prove this causal relationship, parties can bring expert medical and lay testimony to show that, more likely than not, the subsequent injuries were caused by the accident. Bennett v. Louisiana Farm Bureau Cas. Ins. Co., 983 So.2d 966, 972 (La. Ct. App. 2008)

The two types of damages awarded to Schwartzberg were general and special. General damages cover non-economic losses that involve mental or physical pain or suffering, and it can also provide compensation for certain inconveniences incurred. Boudreaux v. Farmer, 604 So. 2d 641, 654 (La. Ct. App. 1992). Special damages, on the other hand, cover amounts that can be determined with relative certainty and are more easily measured. McGee v. A C And S, Inc., 933 So. 2d 770, 774 (La. 2006). In an appeal of this sort, the role of the court is to decide if the trial court exercised appropriate discretion. Wainwright v. Fontenot, 774 So. 2d 70, 74 (La. 2000). 

At trial, the injured plaintiff’s medical records were introduced. The medical records before the accident showed that the plaintiff was treated for his chronic neck pain and other injuries. They also showed that he received a steroid injection two days before the accident. Experts testified that had the collision on April 25th not occurred, the steroid shot he received should have decreased his neck pain for a longer period of time. 

The Louisiana First Circuit Court of Appeal held that the trial court did not err in accepting and relying on the medical testimony and found it more likely than not that the collision caused an aggravation to his pre-existing neck injury. The Court of Appeal found that the trial court was in a better position to observe and review the evidence. Additionally, the Court of Appeal held that the trial court did not err in awarding Schwartzberg $49,999.99 for general and specific damages.

Unfortunately for defendants, when a plaintiff has sufficient evidence that an injury aggravated a pre-existing injury, that defendant cannot escape liability and must pay damages. An experienced lawyer can help prove these claims.  

ADDITIONAL SOURCES: Schwartzberg v. Guillory

WRITTEN BY: Zhuo Zhao 


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