Mullen & Mullen Straight Talk Series

Acknowledge Prior Injuries

Almost every single day of the year our personal injury law firm is approached by good people who were injured in an accident and assumed the wrongdoer’s insurance company would do the right thing and treat them fairly.

Adjusters tell them to get better soon and to just send them the bills when they are done treating. These injured victims are shocked when they forward medical bills and records as requested and receive an offer back that doesn’t even cover the medical bills they incurred – let alone compensate them in any way for the pain, suffering, mental anguish, and inconvenience caused by the accident.

So here’s some straight talk: Insurance companies do not exist to fairly compensate injured victims. They exist to make money for executives and shareholders. They make more money the less fair they are with claimants. Although a few reputable insurance companies still exist, the vast majority are getting more and more aggressive in trying to delay and deny legitimate claims.

That’s just the world we live in. That insurance adjuster that was so nice to you the first few times you spoke to him or her? Just watch how their tone changes when it comes time to try to fairly resolve your claim.

Hint: They don’t get bonuses for paying you fair compensation. They get bonuses for saving the insurance company money. You are just another claim to them, nothing more than a number to run through a computer algorithm. Now – more than ever – it is absolutely imperative that your injury case be developed and managed properly so that you are in a position to be fairly compensated for your injuries.

Make no mistake: Claims adjusters will make each and every argument they can to minimize your compensation. You need experienced personal injury lawyers who can help you navigate the process… someone who can assist you in not making a mistake that could jeopardize your case.

Here is a major pitfall to avoid that could really damage your case.

#1 Way to Avoid Damaging Your Case: Acknowledge Prior Injuries

Credibility is everything in a personal injury case. It is critical that you always be honest and forthcoming regarding any prior injuries you have sustained – especially in regards to injuries to the same body part(s) injured in the accident at issue. Under Texas law you are entitled to damages even if an accident only exacerbates a pre-existing condition. It is very important that you immediately let your attorney know of any prior injuries including any prior personal injury claims and/or prior workers’ compensation claims. It goes without saying that it is also very important that you let your treating physician known of any prior injuries you have sustained. This will allow the physician to obtain a proper medical history from you so they can properly document any new symptoms caused by the accident.

We regularly represent clients who have had a prior car accident at some point – before the one we are assisting them with. Most of the time the clients sough medical treatment for a few months and then made a full recovery or something close to it. We encourage clients to be transparent with our firm and their treating physician(s).

If you were involved in a prior wreck and made a full recovery from same how would that hurt your current case? Hint: It doesn’t. What would hurt your case? Not identifying you were involved in a prior collision and giving the adjuster – who will find record of it – a reason to doubt your credibility and suggest you’re trying to hide something.

The best approach is to be forthcoming. “Own” the prior injury or injuries. Focus your efforts on identifying any new symptoms you are experiencing as a result of the accident at issue. For example, maybe you have a manual labor job and previously let your family doctor know you have 3/10 low back pain and have to take OTC pain medication to get relief. If you are subsequently involved in a major motor vehicle collision it goes without saying that your low back pain is likely to significantly increase. If your low back pain increases to 7/10 let your doctor know. If you develop symptoms you didn’t have before the wreck – such as weakness, numbness, or tingling – let your doctor know.

You can’t un-ring the credibility bell. The best approach is to give a full and accurate medical history and focus on how your health has changed as a result of the current accident. The following demonstrates how easy it can be to respond to an adjuster that would try to focus on a prior accident under a couple different scenarios:

Scenario 1: Very Limited Prior Treatment and Recovery

Adjuster: I ran your client through our system and noticed they were involved in a prior wreck in 2015.

Attorney: That’s correct. My client wasn’t keeping that a secret. He told his treating doctors about it.

Adjuster: It’s obvious a lot of his low back pain was pre-existing.

Attorney: That’s categorically false. He did two months of physical therapy following the prior wreck and made a full recovery. Before the wreck at issue he had no complaints of low back pain whatsoever. In fact, his doctors didn’t even order an MRI of his low back after the first wreck so it is apparent they believed he had made a full recovery.

Scenario 2: Currently Treating at Time of Accident

Adjuster: I see your client injured his low back at work a year before this accident and was still treating for that injury.

Attorney: That’s correct.

Adjuster: So your client already had a bad back. I don’t see how we owe money for this.

Attorney: It’s true he had low back pain before this accident but – if you look at his prior records – you’ll note that his pain was only 5/10. His work-injury doctors believed therapy alone would be sufficient to allow him to recover. After the wreck at issue my client’s pain increased to 8/10 and you’ll note he started experiencing radicular symptoms – specifically shooting pain down his right leg.

Scenario 3: Prior Diagnostic Imaging

Adjuster: I see your client underwent a prior MRI following a 2014 motor vehicle accident.

Attorney: Yes, he did.

Adjuster: Your client had a prior low back injury that was bad enough to warrant an MRI.

Attorney: I’m glad you want to discuss the imaging results. You’ll notice my client was diagnosed with a 2 millimeter herniated disc based on the imaging study obtained after his work injury. As you know, he underwent a new MRI following the wreck at issue because his pain significantly increased and he started experiencing weakness in his right leg. The results of the new imaging study revealed that the wreck at issue caused his herniated disc to increase from 2 millimeters to 4 millimeters – which certainly explains the new symptoms he is experiencing.

As you can see above, being forthcoming at the onset preserves your credibility and allows an experienced personal injury attorney to seize control of the narrative. We hope you have enjoyed Part I of this article. Part II will be posted next week so stay tuned.