The sudden force and sharp stop of a rear-end collision can lead to head trauma, spinal trauma, whiplash-associated disorder, and other injuries. Moreover, this kind of collision can easily aggravate pre-existing conditions in people who already suffered from disorders, especially in their bones or muscles.

What can drivers and passengers do after a South Carolina car accident that has worsened their existing pain and health conditions? Fortunately, they have the right to recover damages for these injuries depending on the specifics of the case.

How Rear-End Accidents Cause Injury

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), rear-end collisions are one of the most common types of crash contacts between moving vehicles in the US. The sudden force pushes the body forward against seatbelts and car components; if airbags deploy, they can cause further injuries. Typical rear-end accident injuries include:

  • Fractures
  • Spinal trauma
  • Soft tissue injuries to the skin and muscle
  • Whiplash, affecting the bones and soft tissue of the neck
  • Head trauma, such as traumatic brain injuries (including concussions)

These are serious enough on their own, carrying the risk of paralysis, long-term disability, or death. For those who were already living with disorders or injuries, particularly healing fractures or degenerative disc disease, a comparatively minor accident can lead to medical consequences far worse than the driver at fault would have imagined.

Does that mean that a driver can avoid liability by claiming that they had no way of knowing the person they hit had these problems? No—they are still responsible for the damages resulting from their actions. However, it is likely that their insurer will try to deny as much of the liability as they possibly can.

Liability and the Plaintiff’s Condition

South Carolina personal injury law maintains a principle called the “eggshell plaintiff.” Under this rule, when a defendant causes injury to a plaintiff, they are responsible for the medical consequences, even where the plaintiff suffered more severe injuries than an ordinary person would have due to their pre-existing medical issues.

Even so, the defendant does not become responsible for the pre-existing condition itself—only for injuries resulting from the accident.

Defense attorneys and insurance counsel will be very clear on this point. To avoid or reduce liability, they may claim certain injuries or symptoms had nothing to do with the accident. They will analyze medical records for anything that might be a natural consequence of the progression of the pre-existing condition itself.

South Carolina has a modified comparative negligence law. When a plaintiff has some responsibility for an incident, they may still make a damage claim. However, they are only entitled to partial damages; their share is reduced by their own fault in the incident. If the plaintiff is found to be more than 51% at fault, they are not entitled to damages at all.

Theoretically, the percentage of fault between the parties is determined at trial. But most auto accident cases do not go to trial and are handled through settlements. Insurance adjusters review evidence from the accident scene and determine the percentage of fault between the drivers involved. Nonetheless, the insurance adjuster’s report does not have the force of law. In fact, it may be biased against the claimant.

Insurance companies want to avoid payouts if at all possible and minimize the ones they do make. They may deny a claim with merit, asserting that their policyholder was not liable. When they do make an initial settlement offer, the amount is very unlikely to cover issues arising in the future, especially for someone whose health problems were compounded by the accident.

Accepting a settlement means signing away the right to claim further damages from the insurance company. That is why it is crucial to speak to an attorney about your situation before you accept any offer from an insurance company.

Assessing Your Needs and Protecting Your Rights

After an auto accident, you may be entitled to recover for:

  • Medical and prescription drug expenses
  • Over-the-counter medication and home health needs, such as braces for injuries
  • Lost wages or earning opportunities
  • Other expenses incurred due to the injuries

However, before you can recover, you must prove that you suffered these damages and that they resulted from the accident.

Anyone who has been in a car accident should have a medical exam as soon as possible to check for hidden injuries, even if they do not feel pain at the time. This is especially true for people who already had conditions that may have been aggravated by the accident. It is vital to have your medical status documented. Insurance attorneys and defense counsel will try to confuse the issue as much as possible by claiming that health issues arose from the pre-existing condition and not the accident.

It is wise to contact a personal injury attorney as soon as possible after a car accident. Your attorney will work with you to develop a clear picture of your health before and after the collision. At Cavanaugh & Thickens, LLC, we can help you manage your medical records and handle negotiations with insurers, relieving you from the pressure so that you can focus on healing. If you have been in a South Carolina auto accident, contact us today at 803-888-2200 to schedule your free case review in our Columbia or Charleston-area offices.