We recently settled a case with MetLife Insurance for $47,000 for a man who hurt his neck and back in a car accident in Atlanta, Georgia. Our client had a pre-existing condition – degeneration and arthritis of his neck and back – that was aggravated by the accident. This settlement is a good example of how personal injury law allows people to recover for pre-existing conditions that are aggravated or exacerbated by accidents.
Personal Injury Law & Pre-Existing Conditions
It is very common for people to develop degeneration and arthritis of their neck and back as they age. The medical term for this is osteoarthritis. This degeneration occurs when the spaces between the vertebrae of your spine narrow and bone spurs form on the vertebrae of your spine. This can irritate and inflame your spine and the surrounding tissue. Degenerative changes in the spine are part of the normal aging process and are not caused by accidents. It is also very common for people not to experience any problems from the degeneration and arthritis in their neck and back until they’re injured in an accident. However, these degenerative changes do make people more likely to suffer neck and back injuries and people typically take longer to recover from injuries.
In car wreck cases, insurance companies often argue that degenerative changes in the spine are a pre-existing condition and that they shouldn’t have to pay for any treatment for them. While degenerative changes ARE a pre-existing condition, the real question is whether the accident aggravated the pre-existing condition, causing it to require medical treatment. If a person had degeneration and arthritis in their neck and back and the accident aggravates it, causing it to become painful and require treatment, personal injury law holds the person who caused the accident responsible for it.
Now let’s talk about our case.
Mr. M was driving home on Georgia 400 and was stopped on an exit ramp waiting to turn onto Holcomb Bridge Road. All of a sudden a teenage driver who wasn’t paying attention plowed into the rear of his car:
Mr. M initially didn’t think he was hurt in the accident and didn’t go to the hospital. When he woke up the next day his neck and back were extremely sore and painful so he went to the emergency room, where doctors diagnosed him with strains and sprains of his neck and back. They prescribed him pain medication and anti-inflammatories and told him to follow up if he didn’t get better. Mr. continued to have neck and back pain and went back to the emergency room a week later. He then saw an orthopedist, who again diagnosed him with strains and sprains of his neck and back and prescribed him six weeks of physical therapy. When the physical therapy didn’t help, the doctor ordered MRIs of his cervical and lumbar spine. The MRIs showed that Mr. M didn’t have any herniated discs or fractures but that he did have degenerative changes in his neck and back. Mr. M’s doctor then sent him back to physical therapy and after several months of extensive treatment he finally recovered.
We knew the degeneration and arthritis in Mr. M’s back was going to be an issue in his case. To deal with it, we got records from Mr M.’s primary care doctor for several years before the accident, which showed that he didn’t have any neck or back problems. We sent these records along with Mr. M’s settlement demand to show that while Mr. M had degenerative changes in his neck and back, he was doing just fine and it wasn’t causing him any problems. After several rounds of negotiations, we were able to settle his case for $47,000.