Does a prior medical condition prevent recovery under the Federal Employers' Liability Act?
The answer is NO.
Under the Federal Employers’ Liability Act ("FELA"), a railroad cannot escape liability to its injured employee merely because other medical causes contribute to an injury. The FELA provides that railroad employers are liable for injuries to their employees "resulting in whole or in part" from the employer's negligence. The FELA allows monetary recovery for an aggravation of pre-existing medical condition.
What is an "aggravation of a pre-existing medical condition?"
For example, degenerative disc disease is a process of aging. However, degenerative disc disease may be silent before it is aggravated by trauma. In other words, while you may have experienced back pain months or years before a work injury, if the degenerative disc disease was not symptomatic immediately before or at the time of the work injury, damages may be recoverable under the FELA.
In order to establish an aggravation of a pre-existing medical condition, a physician must testify “to a reasonable degree of medical certainty,” (i.e., more probably true than not true) that the railroad's negligence played a part in aggravating the pre-existing condition. Generally speaking, when the railroad's negligence aggravates a pre-existing condition, the railroad is liable only for the additional damages caused by their negligence, and not for the pain and impairment that the railroader would have suffered, even if the accident had never occurred.
If I aggravate a prior medical condition at work on the railroad what can I anticipate? The railroad's attorneys will probably argue that you should be barred from recovering money damages, or that your money damages should be reduced due to your pre-existing medical condition. The railroad will file what is called a pre-existing medical condition affirmative defense, contending you would have experienced problems regardless of the work injury. In response, HOEY & FARINA, as your attorneys, will file trial motions requesting that the judge prevent evidence of pre-existing conditions from being presented to the jury. If the judge allows such evidence to go to the jury, we will assert that it is the railroad's burden of proof to demonstrate that the damages are due to pre-existing conditions. If the railroad does not provide a reasonable legal and factual basis for the contribution of the pre-existing conditions to the injury, we will then request the railroad be held responsible for all damages.
You must understand that there are certain things you can do to help defeat the railroad's "affirmative defense." First, let your doctor know how you were injured at work as soon as you are injured, and at every office visit thereafter. Second, be prepared to discuss relevant prior medical conditions with your attorney and doctor. You will be asked about prior medical conditions in your deposition. Your treating physicians may also be asked at a deposition about prior medical conditions that are relevant to your injury. The best policy is to be truthful when dealing with your doctors, lawyers, and when giving deposition testimony.
Third, expect that your prior medical history will be an issue at trial. Advise your attorneys and doctors how your symptoms are different after the work injury. What activities have become increasingly difficult or impossible since being injured at work? Is your pain different, more intense, and/or spreading to other areas of your body? How have your medical treatments and physician recommendations changed?
We, your attorneys at HOEY & FARINA, will interview and develop testimony from persons who can testify about your activities and ability to function before the accident compared to after. We will meet with your doctors to ensure that they understand the legal standards required to prove that the railroad's negligence aggravated a pre-existing condition. We will also highlight for your doctors those facts that most strongly weigh in your favor in demonstrating a substantial aggravation of a pre-existing condition.
Remember, a jury cannot deny your right to recover damages for an aggravation of a pre-existing condition, or a pre-existing condition that makes you more susceptible to further injury. The more effective you, your witnesses, doctors and attorneys can demonstrate the contrast between your physical condition before versus after your work accident, the more a jury will be persuaded that the railroad's negligence caused a significant aggravation of a pre-existing condition.
If you have any questions concerning pre-existing conditions or other issues relating to an on-the-job injury, please contact us at either 888-425-1212 or email@example.com.