Aggravation and Exacerbation of Pre-Existing Condition Injuries under North Carolina Law

Not everyone who is injured in an automobile crash is in perfect health. Nearly everyone among us has some health condition or another. Whether it’s degenerative disc disease or a prior traumatic brain injury, a person’s health history can largely dictate how injured they will become after a violent car or tractor trailer accident. Despite this fact, automobile insurance companies routinely deny valid claims by asserting that the injury is a “pre-existing condition.” Often times they assert this pre-existing condition defense despite clear medical records that the prior condition was drastically changed as a result of the car wreck. Don’t let them get away with it. Your prior health condition does not mean they you do not have a valid case. In fact, a pre-existing condition can make your pain and symptoms even more understandable. If you need help with your case, call Maginnis Law at 919.480.8526 to discuss the insurance company’s handling of your claim or send us an email at

Maginnis Law recently completed a case where our client had a long history of pre-existing conditions prior to being hit by an individual who ran a stop sign. Our client rejected the low-ball settlement offers from the insurance company that were based upon the pre-existing condition and obtained a jury verdict for more than twice what the insurance company had offered.

Insurance companies largely get away with the “pre-existing condition” defense because people let them. They use the defense to convince unsuspecting members of the public that the law just affords them no rights. This is simply not the case. They just hope to mislead you into not pursuing your case. If they’re successful, they know they’ll save thousands of dollars. North Carolina law recognizes a right to recover not just for a direct, new injury, but also an aggravation, exacerbation or activation of a prior health condition. In fact, one of the “pattern jury instructions” North Carolina judges use at the conclusion of a personal injury trial indicates that the legal phrase “injury” includes “all legally recognized forms of personal harms, including activation or reactivation of a disease or aggravation of an existing condition.” The only exception would be the so-called “peculiar susceptibility” defense. This defense only works, though, when the wreck could not have caused any injury to an ordinary person. This is rarely the case, as nearly any wreck has the capability of causing injury.

The words used by the pattern jury instructions can look similar but they actually mean quite different things. “Activation” of a disease occurs when the person had some underlying condition that was not causing symptoms which began causing symptoms after the crash or other event. For example, the pre-existing condition many insurance companies cite to is degenerative disc disease or arthritis of the back. That condition may not cause symptoms until after a crash. This would be an “activation” of an underlying condition. An “aggravation” or “exacerbation” would occur when the person was experiencing symptoms but they are made worse. That would occur, for example, when the disc disease was causing daily pain at a 4/10 on the pain scale prior to the crash but say 7/10 after the crash.

The Raleigh personal injury attorneys of Maginnis law are experienced in handling complex personal injury claims, including those where the victim has a pre-existing health condition that may impact the nature of the injuries caused by the incident or crash. Our firm represents North Carolinians across the state, including those from Durham, Raleigh, Cary, Fayetteville, Greensboro, Wilmington, Winston-Salem, Charlotte, and Asheville. If we are able to handle your case, we will offer to do so on a contingency fee basis. This means that you no attorneys’ fees unless and until we make a financial recovery on your behalf. For a free consultation about your case, please visit our contact page to send a confidential inquiry or email our lead personal injury attorney, T. Shawn Howard.