​Spinal stenosis.  Disc osteophytes complexes.  Disc desiccation.  Osteoarthritis.  Bone spurring.  Endplate changes.  Foraminal narrowing.  Hypertrophy.  Facet joint disease.
It is no secret that as we get older our bodies are subjected to forces that cause aged-related physiological changes throughout our neck and our back.  These degenerative, age-related changes can often be visualized on diagnostic studies, such as x-rays and MRIs.  For some these changes cause little or no symptoms.  For others these changes manifest themselves in severe and debilitating pain and discomfort.
In the context of a personal injury lawsuit, particularly those involving claims arising from automobile accidents, the dispute that often arises centers upon whether an individual’s neck and/or back complaints are traumatically induced or, on the other hand, related to longstanding degenerative conditions.  This issue becomes particularly salient in the context of a personal injury claim subject to the limitation on lawsuit, or verbal threshold, in which to recover pain-and-suffering monetary damages the injured party must prove a permanent injury using objective evidence, such as x-rays and MRIs.
In short, are the findings on neck and back MRIs related to a particular trauma, or were they caused due to natural, age-related processes?  And if the latter, are they compensable in a personal injury lawsuit in which the plaintiff is subject to the verbal threshold?
New Jersey case law and the Model Civil Jury Charges have crafted a set of rules governing personal injury claims in which the plaintiff has some form of pre-existing condition.  Specifically, Civil Jury Charge 8.11F directs a jury as to how they should award damages in the case of “aggravation of a pre-existing disability.”  The jury charge directs that if an individual was having symptoms due to a pre-existing condition at the time of the accident, then a jury can only award damages for the amount that the pre-existent condition was worsened due to the accident.  On the other hand, if the individual was not having symptoms due to the pre-existing condition at the time of the accident, but that the pre-existent condition combined with the accident caused injury, then the individual is entitled to recover for the full extent of injuries he or she sustained.
The aggravation jury charge can often be confusing to a jury when taken in the context of a verbal threshold case, where the plaintiff must prove a permanent injury using objective evidence before a pain-and-suffering monetary award is appropriate.  What if the plaintiff has a permanent condition before the accident but the condition feels worse after an accident?  Does that suffice to overcome the threshold and entitle the injured party to compensation?
At Weir & Associates, LLC we have developed litigation strategies for effectively handling aggravation claims in advocating for both our defense and personal injury clients.  From pursuing vital documentation during pre-trial discovery, to carefully preparing the testimony of medical experts, to crafting specific jury charges, successfully addressing aggravation cases requires a measured litigation plan implemented throughout all stages of a case.  For more information about aggravation cases, contact Weir & Associates, LLC.