Common Misconceptions About Injuries

Over our combined thirty years of legal experience, we have seen a few reoccurring injury misconceptions.

First Misconception – There is a Connection between Damage to the Vehicle and the Threshold of Injury to a Person

"There wasn't that much damage to the car so there is no way anyone inside could have been injured." We hear this ploy from insurance companies from time-to-time. While it is our experience that more powerful impacts can result in more significant injuries, we see a fair number of serious injuries, sometimes requiring surgical correction, from low speed impacts. First, there are too many variables from person-to-person to make the make the broad statement that no one could be injured from a low speed impact. An impact that may not cause any injury to a healthy young person may cause a disabling injury to an elderly person with typical spinal degeneration. Second, there are too many variables from vehicle to vehicle to make the broad statement that an occupant could not be injured. Consider the difference between the steel "bumper" on the back of a pick-up truck compared to the soft, elastic plastic on the bumper of a typical sedan. In a rear-end collision of equal force, there may be little visible damage to the back of the pick-up compared to the back of the sedan. Where the steel bumper is bolted onto a steel frame, there is no soft energy absorbing area or crush zone. Where the energy from the crash is not absorbed by the vehicle, some engineers theorize that the energy is transferred through the vehicle to the occupant. On the other hand, when two sedans with elastic bumpers collide, if the impact energy is not great enough to bend the metal body of the front car, some engineers theorize the rear bumper of the front vehicle will bounce away from the area of impact and accelerate that vehicle as well as the occupants inside of it.

Another misconception arises from pre-existing medical conditions. Some people mistakenly believe that if a person has a pre-existing condition that is further injured or aggravated by a motor vehicle accident, then they cannot seek a recovery. Consider CACI 3927 (a jury instruction commonly given in California mva trials) which reads, "Plaintiff is not entitled to damages for any physical or emotional condition that he or she had before the defendant's conduct occurred. However, if the plaintiff had a physical or emotional condition that was made worse by the defendant's wrongful conduct, you must award damages that will reasonably and fairly compensate the plaintiff for the effect on that condition." So a person involved in a car accident cannot pin old injuries that pre-existed the accident onto the responsibilities of the at-fault driver. However, if the at-fault driver made a pre-existing condition worse, then the at-fault driver must be held responsible for the amount of harm caused.

Lastly, an at-fault driver is held responsible for injuries sustained by the crash victim even if the average person would not be injured at all. With the caption Unusually Susceptible Plaintiff, CACI 3928 reads, "You must decide the full amount of money that will reasonably and fairly compensate the plaintiff for all damages caused by the wrongful conduct of the defendant, even if the plaintiff was more susceptible to injury than a normally healthy person would have been, and even if a normally healthy person would not have suffered similar injury." This particular instruction does not appear to be widely understood by insurance adjusters who attempt to deny spine injuries from a car accident because the patient has an MRI with "degenerative" or "congenital" conditions. A person over forty typically already has some spine degeneration and that usually worsens with time. When a person like that has serious spine symptomology, such as radiculopathy, following a car accident, it is easy to understand how the trauma from the crash brought on the symptoms and how that is different from the gradual onset of symptoms that are part of the aging process. We use CACI 3927 and 3928 in conjunction to explain how pre-existing conditions are compensable in some cases.