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New Jersey law provides that injured persons are entitled to compensation for any aggravation of a preexisting condition. But what exactly is a preexisting condition and how does one demonstrate an aggravation?
A preexisting condition may be defined as “one that has become sufficiently associated with a plaintiff prior to the defendant’s negligent conduct so that it becomes a factor that affects the value of the plaintiff’s interest destroyed by the defendant.” Anderson v. Picciotti, 144 N.J. 195, 211 (1996) (citation omitted). In other words, a preexisting condition is a wound or damage that existed prior to the complained-of incident. Sometimes, these preexisting conditions are asymptomatic or stable prior to the incident. Other times, these preexisting conditions are symptomatic prior to the incident. In any event, the injured victim is entitled to recover for the pain and suffering of any preexisting condition worsened or caused to recur due to the negligence of another.
Insurance carriers routinely reject claims where there is evidence of a preexisting condition on the basis that any pain and suffering of the victim is the result of the preexisting condition, and not the negligence of their insured. Even if they don’t reject the claims outright, insurance carriers will use the evidence of a preexisting condition to lower the amount of compensation they offer. In such cases, litigation is often necessary to receive the full value of the claim.
Where a plaintiff in a lawsuit alleges aggravation of a preexisting condition, the plaintiff will need to show comparative medical evidence isolating the new injury from the preexisting condition. See Davidson v. Slater, 189 N.J. 166, 185 (2007). “In such matters, a plaintiff generally bears the burden of production in respect of demonstrating that the accident was the proximate cause of the injury aggravation or new . . . injury to the previously injured body part.” Id. (citing O’Brien (Newark) Cogeneration, Inc. v. Automatic Sprinkler Corp. of Am., 361 N.J. Super. 264, 274–75 (App. Div. 2003)). This comparative medical analysis “must encompass an evaluation of the medical records of the patient prior to the trauma with the objective medical evidence existent post trauma.” Polk v. Daconceicao, 268 N.J. Super. 568, 575 (App. Div. 1993).
What if the plaintiff does not allege an aggravation of a preexisting condition, but the defense claims that the complained-of injuries are actually the result of a preexisting condition? In that case, there is no “obligation to produce comparative-analysis evidence excluding all other injuries from being the cause of the” new injury. Davidson, 189 N.J. at 186. However, “the plaintiff who does not prepare for comparative medical evidence is at risk of failing to raise a jury-worthy factual issue about whether the subject accident caused the injuries.” Id. at 188 (citing Brill v. Guardian Life Ins. Co. of Am., 142 N.J. 520, 540 (1995); Hardison v. King, 381 N.J. Super. 129, 137 (App. Div. 2005)).
If you or a loved one has been injured as a result of the negligence of another, you need the services of an experienced New Jersey personal injury lawyer. Contact Folkman Law Offices, P.C. to schedule a free consultation to discuss your case by calling 856-354-9444, or submit an online inquiry. Our offices are conveniently located in Cherry Hill, New Jersey and Philadelphia, Pennsylvania to assist clients throughout the area.