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May 19, 2024

Causation in Personal Injury Cases: Understanding the Impact of Degenerative Findings



In personal injury cases, the concept of causation is one of the main factors that is used to quantify damages in a personal injury case. The injury suffered by the plaintiff must be causally related to the incident for which compensation is being sought. In other words, the injury, that the client is claiming, has to be a direct result of the accident.



Example: You are a 65-year-old overweight man with bulges and MRI studies reveal that you have herniations throughout your back. After the accident, you start feeling severe pain. The pain that you began to feel could be recent, but the injuries, which the radiology studies reveal are pre-existing or degenerative.



This principle, often encapsulated in the phrase “injury needs to be causally related,” serves as a cornerstone in determining damages and evaluating the value of the case. Within this framework, understanding the nuances of causation, particularly in the context of degenerative findings, becomes crucial.



Causation: Establishing the Link



Causation, in the legal context, refers to the link between the defendant’s actions and the plaintiff’s injuries. It requires demonstrating that the defendant’s negligent or intentional conduct was the proximate cause of the harm suffered by the plaintiff. In personal injury cases, establishing causation involves proving that the injuries claimed by the plaintiff were directly caused by the accident or incident in question. This variable is generally calculated using bio-mechanical calculations and property damage.



Example: If there is minimal impact to a vehicle but the damage to your body is extensive, it would be difficult to prove that the injuries, you have claimed are a direct result of the injuries. Or if you have degenerative findings, it would also be difficult to prove that the injuries, which are claiming are direct result of the accident.



Degenerative Findings: A Complex Variable



Degenerative findings, such as degenerative disc disease, present a unique challenge in personal injury cases. These conditions involve the gradual deterioration of tissues or organs over time, often occurring naturally as part of the aging process. However, they can also be exacerbated or aggravated by traumatic events, such as accidents or injuries.



Exacerbation vs. Aggravation



When dealing with degenerative findings, the distinction between exacerbation and aggravation becomes crucial. Exacerbation refers to the worsening of pre-existing conditions due to an external factor, such as an accident. Aggravation, on the other hand, entails the direct contribution of the external factor to the progression or severity of the condition. Distinguishing between these two concepts is essential in determining the extent to which the accident contributed to the plaintiff’s injuries. However, during the negotiation process, both exacerbation and aggrivation of injuries are argued.



Legal Implications and Case Valuation



The presence of degenerative findings complicates the causation analysis in personal injury cases. Defendants often argue that the plaintiff’s injuries were not directly caused by the accident but rather resulted from pre-existing conditions. In such instances, proving causation becomes challenging, and the value of the case may significantly decrease.



For example, consider a scenario where an individual with pre-existing degenerative disc disease is involved in a rear-end collision. The defendant may argue that the plaintiff’s back pain was primarily due to the underlying degenerative condition rather than the impact of the accident. In this case, establishing causation requires medical evidence to demonstrate that the accident exacerbated or aggravated the plaintiff’s condition, leading to the claimed injuries.



Failure to establish a causal link between the accident and the plaintiff’s injuries can result in a lower valuation of the case. Insurance companies and defendants are likely to offer reduced settlements or challenge the plaintiff’s claims based on the absence of causation. As a result, plaintiffs must present compelling evidence, such as medical records, expert testimony, and diagnostic imaging, to support their claims of causation and the extent of their injuries.



Conclusion



“Injury needs to be causally related” encapsulates the fundamental requirement in personal injury cases to establish a direct link between the defendant’s actions and the plaintiff’s injuries. When dealing with degenerative findings, such as degenerative disc disease, proving causation becomes more complex, as the defendant may argue that the injuries were not directly caused by the accident but rather resulted from pre-existing conditions. Understanding the nuances of causation and presenting compelling evidence are essential to securing fair compensation for plaintiffs in personal injury cases.



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