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Tennessee Case Explains How Preexisting Conditions Can Affect a Car Accident Verdict

According to the National Safety Council, approximately 4.6 million people were injured in car accidents in the United States in 2016. This number represents many different kinds of people: a mother that is rear-ended by someone while driving her kids to school, a couple involved in a head on collision with a drunk driver, a daughter driving her mom to the doctor who is T-boned at a 4-way stop, and the list goes on and on.

A recent Tennessee Court of Appeals case, Kempson v. Casey, tackled the important issue of what judges and juries should consider when awarding damages to plaintiffs with preexisting medical conditions. In this case, the plaintiff, Steven Kempson, sued the defendant, Pamela Casey, for negligently driving her vehicle into the back of his pickup truck. The defendant did not dispute that she caused the accident, but she argued that the plaintiff was not injured in the accident. Specifically, the defendant claimed the plaintiff’s alleged injuries were due to prior medical issues and complications that he developed long before this car accident.

At trial, the plaintiff did not dispute that he had preexisting conditions. His treating physicians testified that he had experienced back and neck problems for many years, and he was involved in another car accident before the one at issue that aggravated those prior injuries. However, the plaintiff’s expert witnesses, his treating surgeon and chiropractor, testified at trial that the plaintiff’s condition worsened due to the auto accident with Pamela Casey.

The defendant, on the other hand, argued the plaintiff was diagnosed with degenerative disc disease less than a year before this accident, and the health issues the plaintiff claimed were related to the auto accident were inevitable. Although the defendant did not have any expert witnesses testify on her behalf at trial, the jury ended up finding that the defendant did not injure the plaintiff in the accident, so they did not award the plaintiff any compensation. The plaintiff requested a new trial, disputing the jury’s decision not to award him compensation for his injuries. The trial court judge denied the motion for a new trial because the judge believed there was material evidence to support the jury’s verdict.

The plaintiff appealed the decision. The Tennessee Court of Appeals recognized that under Tennessee law, a plaintiff in a negligence claim may be entitled to recovery for reasonable expenses for medical exams, even if it is only to determine whether or not the plaintiff was injured. This is particularly important where a defendant offers no expert proof to counter the testimony presented by the plaintiff’s expert. Furthermore, the Tennessee Court of Appeals explained that the aggravation of a preexisting condition should be taken into account by a jury in a Tennessee car accident case. Therefore, since the jury’s award of no damages failed to consider the aggravation of a preexisting condition and it failed to compensate for expenses, which were unchallenged by the plaintiff’s expert proof submitted at trial, the appellate court vacated the jury’s verdict and remanded this matter for a new trial on damages.

As this case illustrates, there are complex considerations when evaluating what recovery would be available for someone who has been injured in a car accident but has preexisting conditions. Insurance companies and their attorneys closely review an injured victim’s medical records in an attempt to reduce the value of the injured victim’s claim. Our Tennessee auto accident lawyers at Nahon, Saharovich & Trotz understand the importance of protecting your rights so you have every opportunity to get the recovery you deserve.  Call us at 1-800-529-4004 for a free consultation of your case.