Preexisting Conditions and West Virginia Negligence Claims – Harnish v. Corra

knee injuryWhen an individual sues for injuries and damages resulting from another party’s negligence, he or she is only entitled to receive compensation for harms actually and proximately caused by the other party’s actions.  In some negligence cases, this may be very straightforward.  For instance, if a doctor performs the wrong surgery, it is usually clear which harms resulted from this error.  However, in other instances, an individual may have preexisting injuries or conditions that existed well before the accident, in addition to new injuries resulting from the accident. It can be difficult to separate the two.  In a recent case before the Supreme Court of West Virginia, the court took a look at a case involving preexisting injuries and new conditions.

In Harnish v. Corra, Mr. Corra was injured in an accident with Mr. Harnish. Mr. Corra claimed neck and back injuries, as well as a knee injury for which he later needed surgery. Mr. Harnish admitted liability for the accident and for the neck and back injuries, but he denied that the accident had caused the knee injury. Instead, according to Mr. Harnish, Mr. Corra’s knee pain and surgery were the result of preexisting knee conditions.  At trial, Mr. Corra presented evidence from a medical expert that while Mr. Corra had chondromalacia, a knee condition, prior to the accident, he had never before had pain, so the pain he experienced and the surgery he required resulted from the accident.

Conversely, Mr. Harnish presented evidence from a medical expert that Mr. Corra’s knee pain was the result of preexisting conditions and normal wear and tear, rather than the accident. However, he acknowledged that these preexisting conditions were aggravated by the accident.

After all of the evidence and testimony was presented, the judge instructed the jury that it could only award damages to Mr. Corra for injuries that he had shown resulted from the accident, rather than other, unrelated events or conditions.  The jury ultimately awarded Mr. Corra damages for his neck and back injuries, but not his knee injury. Mr. Corra moved for a new trial on the basis that the evidence clearly showed that his knee injury was caused by the accident. The trial court granted the motion, and Mr. Harnish appealed.

While acknowledging that a trial court is entitled to great deference regarding its decision on a motion for a new trial, the Supreme Court ultimately ruled that Mr. Harnish was correct on appeal, and a new trial should not have been granted.  Although there was significant evidence to support Mr. Corra’s argument that his knee pain was a result of the accident and Mr. Harnish’s negligence, there was also testimony from both medical experts regarding Mr. Corra’s prior knee conditions and the possibility that Mr. Corra’s knee pain was a result of these conditions, rather than the accident.  In weighing the evidence, the Supreme Court held that the jury could have decided to give weight to such testimony and to discredit evidence from Mr. Corra that the knee injury was caused by the accident.  Because of this, the Supreme Court held that the trial court should not have determined that the evidence indisputably supported Mr. Corra’s interpretation of events, and a new trial was not warranted. Accordingly, the case was remanded for the reinstatement of the jury’s verdict.

This case is an excellent reminder that plaintiffs must prove each and every component of their negligence claims, including damages, and that the risks of trial include the possibility that a jury may simply decline to believe their interpretation of events.

Building the evidence to prove every aspect of your negligence claim requires time, careful attention to detail, and experienced trial strategy. Our West Virginia personal injury lawyers have been assisting clients with negligence lawsuits for more than 25 years, and we have the strategic skills and substantive experience to develop a winning strategy for you. Located in Elkins, West Virginia, the Wolfe Law Firm represents clients in a wide range of injury, criminal defense, and bankruptcy matters. Call us at 1-877-637-5756 or contact us online for a free consultation.

Related blog posts:

The Importance of Knowledge in Negligence Claims – Wheeling Park Commission v. Dattoli

Limitations on the Presentation of Evidence in West Virginia Negligence Cases – Sneberger v. Morrison

Vacating Judgments in West Virginia Personal Injury Cases – Philips v. Stear