Elderly Injury Claims: How Does Age Affect Your Compensation?

Insurance companies don’t like high-dollar elder injury claims. Learn about important laws that help older victims get fair compensation.

Senior citizens are not immune to accidents. In fact, some injury scenarios happen more often to seniors than to younger adults.

Seniors suffer more slip and fall injuries: 

  • One in four Americans over age 65 falls each year
  • An older adult is treated every 11 seconds in the emergency room for a fall-related accident¹

In 2018, unintentional injuries were the 7th leading cause of death for Americans age 65 and older, which killed more than 57,000 Americans.²

Car accidents, slip and falls, and similar misfortunes are common causes of injury claims for the older population. When another person negligently causes an injury, elderly individuals have a right to pursue compensation for their losses.

Age or a preexisting condition shouldn’t prevent older Americans from pursuing personal injury compensation. Their claim can be more challenging to prove, but with strong evidence, seniors can still receive the compensation they deserve.

Common Senior Citizen Injury Scenarios

Elderly individuals can sustain injuries in all the ways that younger people do, but the majority of their injuries fall into just a few types of scenarios.

Common personal injury scenarios for senior citizens include:

Age-Related Risk for Injuries and Complications

As people age, their bodies experience many changes that can make them more likely to suffer an injury. Not only are seniors more prone to injury, but they are also at a higher risk of severe injuries and related complications.

Increased injury risk factors for seniors include:

  • Reduced bone density
  • Diminished body fat
  • Hearing or vision loss
  • Decreased agility
  • Using assistive mobility devices
  • Taking certain medications
  • Preexisting conditions

No matter what type of personal injury an older American suffers, they are at an increased risk of complications. Complications from trauma, sedation, and surgery are more common in the elderly.

Potential complications include:

  • Infection
  • Delayed healing
  • Blood clots
  • Mental confusion

Medical conditions can quickly take a turn for the worse in the elderly population. Personal injuries can also lead to severe declines in their overall physical functioning for the rest of their lives.

State Criminal Laws on Elder Abuse

Sometimes seniors suffer injuries because of intentional neglect or abuse. All 50 states have elder law statutes to protect dependant and elderly adults.

For example, in California, Penal Code 368 makes it a crime for someone to either:

  • Willfully cause or permit any elderly or dependent adult to suffer
  • Inflict unjustifiable physical pain or mental suffering on an elderly or dependent adult

Examples of criminal abuse leading to injuries:

  • Lack of proper supervision of a confused elderly patient in a hospital who falls and breaks their hip
  • A nursing home resident who needs frequent repositioning lacks that care and develops severe bedsores
  • Intentionally over-sedating a home care client so that they sleep during a shift

Victims in these cases have the right to pursue both criminal and civil charges.

Cases of Preexisting Conditions

Due to their age, many older Americans have one or more preexisting conditions. Preexisting conditions are injuries, diseases, or illnesses that were already present when you sustained your accident-related injury.

Pre-existing conditions common to seniors include:

  • Neck pain
  • Back pain
  • Depression
  • Heart conditions
  • High blood pressure
  • Diabetes
  • Degenerative disc disease

While a preexisting injury or condition can add to the complexity of a personal injury lawsuit, it should not keep you from pursuing a claim for a new injury.

You are not entitled to receive monetary compensation for an injury or condition that wasn’t caused by an accident or someone’s negligence. However, a preexisting condition is not a valid excuse for an insurance company not to compensate you fairly for your new injuries.

Insurance carriers are well-known for doing everything they can to minimize or disprove the claim of an injured party. They will attempt to use your preexisting conditions against you to lower any settlement you could receive.

To keep their attempts from being successful and maximize their compensation, many injured victims choose to hire a personal injury lawyer to represent their claims.

An attorney can use past and current medical records as well as testimony from medical experts to prove your claim. They will show that even though you have an old injury, your current losses are associated with your new injury, or that your recent injury made the old injury worse.

If you haven’t already consulted a personal injury attorney, now’s the time. Your attorney will fight for your interests.

The Eggshell Skull Doctrine

When an at-fault party’s negligence aggravates a victim’s preexisting injury or condition, attorneys often use the Eggshell Skull Doctrine, also called the thin-skull rule, or simply eggshell doctrine. If this doctrine is applied successfully, it can prevent an insurance company from using a victim’s preexisting conditions to escape liability.

The eggshell skull doctrine is a legal principle that says the frailty, weakness, sensitivity, or feebleness of a victim cannot be used as a defense by the at-fault party in a personal injury claim.

The purpose of the eggshell skull doctrine is to encourage fair compensation for victims and punish the at-fault party for negligence.

Definition of an Eggshell Plaintiff

An “eggshell plaintiff” is an injured person who files a personal injury claim and had some type of underlying medical issue before filing that claim.

In personal injury law, the negligent party is said to “take their victim as they find them.” This saying means that a person causing an injury cannot rely on the victim’s vulnerability to avoid liability.

Example: Eggshell Doctrine Leads to Larger Insurance Settlement

Elizabeth is 75 years old and has osteoporosis and diabetes. She also takes a blood thinner to prevent blood clots. A texting driver T-boned her car.

Due to her physical condition preceding the accident, she required multiple surgeries for a broken leg, took 18 months to heal, and now relies on a walker. She also lost a substantial amount of blood after the accident, putting her life in danger.

The at-fault driver’s insurance company accepted liability for their insured, but they tried to minimize this high-dollar injury claim, offering less than half of the amount demanded by Elizabeth’s attorney.

During settlement negotiations, the adjuster argued that Elizabeth’s osteoporosis made her more likely to break a bone. Further, her diabetes caused delayed healing, and her medication caused her to lose so much blood.

Elizabeth’s attorney responded by pointing out that under the eggshell skull doctrine, the at-fault driver does not owe Elizabeth compensation for her preexisting conditions. However, the driver has to compensate her for all her injuries and medical complications. The attorney also alluded to a willingness to explain the eggshell doctrine to a jury.

Rather than risk having to defend a clearly negligent driver in court, the insurance adjuster finally agreed to settle with Elizabeth’s attorney for the full value of her injury claim.

Injured seniors have the right to expect fair compensation for their injuries, despite prior injuries or existing medical conditions.

It’s important to fully disclose pre-existing conditions to your attorney, or to the insurance company if you’re handling your own claim.

Injury attorneys take advantage of the eggshell doctrine by clearly differentiating the victim’s condition before and after the injury event.

Evidence in support of the eggshell doctrine might come from medical experts for severe injury claims.

Medical experts are often hired to:  

  • Compare your past medical records and diagnostic tests to current ones to accurately determine how your preexisting conditions were made worse by the accident
  • Use clinical records to compare your degree of pain, the extent of necessary care, or disability both before and after the accident

Case Summary: Eggshell Doctrine Applies to Claim for Victim’s Death

In 1989, a negligent truck driver rear-ended Loras Benn on icy roads in Iowa. Benn sustained a fractured ankle and a bruised chest in the accident.

In addition to the injuries, he had a health history of heart disease, with a previous heart attack in 1985, and was an insulin-dependent diabetic. These factors increased his risk of having another heart attack.

Several days after the accident, Benn had another heart attack and passed away. His attending physician said that the accident, combined with his medical problems, was the reason for his death.

When the case went to court, the lawyer for the victim asked the judge to instruct the jury to use the eggshell doctrine when determining their verdict. The court denied the request.

Although the jury’s verdict was in favor of the victim, they did not find that the at-fault party’s negligence caused the victim’s fatal heart attack or his death. The jury awarded Benn’s estate $17,000 for his injuries but nothing for his wrongful death.

The victim’s attorney appealed to the state’s Supreme Court. On appeal, the court ruled that the trial judge should have instructed the jury on the eggshell skull doctrine.

The case was overturned and remanded back to District Court. In other words, the case was sent back to the District Court for a new jury verdict, but this time the jury would be told about the eggshell doctrine.

The victim’s family did not have to settle for less because of preexisting conditions.

How Age Impacts Compensation

No matter the age of a personal injury victim, they should receive fair compensation for their injuries. However, what damages they receive payment for and how much they receive can vary based on the victim’s age and the facts of the case.

Damages represent the losses the injured individual suffers as a result of the other party’s negligence. There are economic losses such as medical bills and lost wages, as well as non-economic damages like pain and suffering and loss of consortium.

Injury claims for younger victims include compensation for past and future lost wages. Damages for lost wages will be minimal for seniors because they are already retired or have little time left in the workforce.

Older adults might receive more compensation, though, for their non-economic damages. Many older injury victims already have preexisting conditions that could make their injury more serious, increasing the value of their claim.

Because seniors may face a longer, more painful recovery than a younger person would, the older injury victim will seek a larger settlement amount for their pain and suffering.

Hire a Personal Injury Attorney to Maximize Compensation

When it comes to elderly injury claims, age can matter. Older Americans tend to incur different damages than younger Americans facing an identical injury.

Older claimants may have preexisting conditions that make their claim more difficult to prove or even worth more.

These realities all mean that personal injury cases involving an older victim can be complicated. Winning fair compensation for severe injuries typically entails medical testimony, financial and actuarial reports, and the possibility of a lawsuit.

Get the professional help you need to pursue a fair settlement. An experienced lawyer can use many strategies to ensure that you receive fair compensation for all the losses you’ve suffered.

Most personal injury attorneys offer free initial consultations. You won’t have to pay anything upfront if  you hire an attorney on a contingency fee basis. Unless the lawyer settles your claim or receives a court award on your behalf, you owe them nothing. If you do receive compensation, they will get paid from those proceeds.

Don’t let advanced age keep you or someone you love from seeking compensation for preventable injuries. Call an attorney today.

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Dustin Reichard, Esq. is an experienced attorney with 20 years of work in the legal field. He’s admitted to the Illinois State Bar and the Washington State Bar. Dustin has worked in the areas of medical malpractice, wrongful death, product liability, slip and falls, and general liability. Dustin began his legal career as a JAG... Read More >>