§23.1 Aggravation of a Pre-Existing Condition

The Case: Haws v. Bullock , 592 S.W.2d 588 (Tenn. Ct. App. 1979).

The Basic Facts: Plaintiff, who was hurt in an automobile accident, sought a recovery for aggravation of a pre-existing condition.

The Bottom Line:

  • "This appeal presents the issue of whether an injured person may recover from a tort feasor, as an element of damages, for determinable pre-existing disabilities where the injury has aggravated and increased the pre-existing disability." 592 S.W.2d at 589-90.
  • "Where the tortfeasor's negligence has rendered it impossible to apportion the amount of disability caused by the pre-existing condition and that caused by the subsequent injury, it is generally held that the defendant is liable for the total damages for the injuries whether the injuries were for new ones or aggravation of a pre-existing condition. Matsumoto v. Kaku, [484 P.2d 147 (Haw. 1971)]; Newbury v. Vogel, [379 P.2d 811 (Colo. 1963)]. But the jury must, if possible, apportion the amount of disability and pain between that caused by the pre-existing condition and that caused by the accident. Stephens v. Koch, [561 P.2d 333 (Colo. 1977)]." Id. at 591.

  • "An oft stated principle in the cases is that a tort feasor 'must accept the person as he finds him' and the person injured by the tort feasor is entitled to recover all damages proximately caused by the acts of the tort feasor. The scope of this rule is well stated in two cases from other jurisdictions." Id. at 591.
  • "Potts v. Howser, [161 S.E.2d 737 (N.C. 1968)], at page 742, states:
    Even so, when his injuries are aggravated or activated by a pre-existing physical or mental condition, defendant is liable only to the extent that his wrongful act proximately and naturally aggravated or activated plaintiff's condition. 'The defendant is not liable for damages * * * attributable solely to the original condition.' 22 Am.Jur.2d, Damages § 124. Plaintiff is confined to those damages due to its enhancement or aggravation."
    Id. at 591.
  • "The instructions given in this case, based upon Foster, were erroneous and we reverse and remand for a new trial and, on the basis of the record, we commend to the trial judge the charge in Tennessee Pattern Jury Instructions, § 14.08, Tennessee Practice, vol. 8, p. 347. FN3
    FN3 T.P.I. Civil 14.08 Aggravation of pre-existing injury or condition.

    A person who has a condition or disability at the time of an injury is not entitled to recover damages therefor. However, he is entitled to recover damages for any aggravation of such pre-existing condition or disability proximately resulting from the injury.

    This is true even if the person's condition or disability made him more susceptible to the possibility of ill effects than a normally healthy person would have been, and even if a normally healthy person would not have suffered any substantial injury.

    Where a pre-existing condition or disability is so aggravated, the damages as to such condition or disability are limited to the additional injury or harm caused by the aggravation. However, if the pre-existing condition caused no harm or disability before the accident, the defendant is responsible for all the harm or disability caused by the accident even though it is greater because of the pre-existing condition than it might otherwise have been."
    Id. at 594.

Other Sources of Note: McMurry v. Metropolitan Government of Nashville , No. M200-02902-COA-R3-CV, 2003 WL 535918, at *7 (Tenn. Ct. App. Feb 26, 2003) (re-affirms Haws).

Recent Cases: Pyle v. Mullins, No. E2012-02502-COA-R3-CV, 2013 WL 6181956 (Tenn. Ct. App. Nov. 25, 2013) (jury cannot find a defendant liable and award damages to a plaintiff for the exacerbation of an existing neck injury unless a medical expert testifies that (1) there was a pre-existing injury at the time of the wreck (2) that was aggravated because of the wreck).

After an accident, many injury victims and their families want more information on the accident and their legal rights. Consequently, many of them have found their way to these pages. While we are happy you are here, please understand Day on Torts: Leading Cases in Tennessee Tort Law was written to be a quick, invaluable reference for Tennessee tort lawyers. While the book provides the leading case for more than 300 tort law subjects and thousands of related case citations, it is not a substitute for personalized legal advice from a qualified lawyer.

Rather than researching these legal issues alone, we urge you to contact one of our award-winning lawyers who can sit down with you, review your case, answer your questions and clearly explain your rights and your options in a no-cost, no-obligation consultation. Our experienced attorneys handle all personal injury and wrongful death cases on a contingency basis, so we only get paid if we win. If for any reason you are unable to come to our office, we will gladly come to you.

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The foregoing is an excerpt from Day on Torts: Leading Cases in Tennessee Tort Law, published by John A. Day, Civil Trial Specialist, Fellow in the American College of Trial Lawyers, recipient of Best Lawyers in America recognition, Martindale-Hubbell AV® Preeminent™ rated attorney, and Top 100 Tennessee Mid-South Super Lawyers designee. Read John’s full bio here.

To order a copy of the book, visit www.dayontortsbook.com. John also blogs regularly on key issues for tort lawyers. To subscribe to the Day on Torts blog, visit www.dayontorts.com.

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