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While most degenerative spine changes in middle-aged people are not symptomatic, or painful, it is generally accepted that the presence of a degenerative spine condition makes that person more vulnerable to an “aggravation” of the condition when subjected to trauma. In other words, someone with a “pre-existing condition” of degenerative spine changes who is involved in a car crash is more likely to come away with neck or back pain than would be someone with a “healthy” spine.

In Louisiana, the law provides that a person who negligently causes a crash or a dangerous condition that results in an aggravation of a pre-existing condition in the victim of the crash is responsible for the full extent of the aggravation. In the usual case, most car wreck victims have not had any diagnostic imaging, such as an MRI, of their neck or back. It is not until after the wreck, and after neck and/or back pain develop, that MRI studies are obtained.  When the MRI reveals degenerative disc changes, the doctors usually find that the wreck aggravated the pre-existing condition and made it symptomatic.

As we age, our spines undergo a gradual but persistent process of degeneration. Merely walking in an upright position causes wear and tear on the spine. Everyday stresses on the spine trigger a healing process that results in bony growth around the joints of the vertebrae. The result of this process may be referred to as degeneration, arthrosis, or spondylosis. Typically, our body can accommodate these gradual changes so that they are not painful.

Studies have shown that more than half of adults between the age of 30 and 39 have degenerative changes in their spine, including disc bulges and loss of disc height, that is not associated with symptoms. That is, it is not painful. By age 60, the incidence of degenerative spine conditions is closer to 90%.  If pain develops relating to the degenerative disc changes, the applicable diagnosis becomes degenerative disc disease.

The mechanism that causes this injury is that the forces on the victim’s body from the collision wakes up the condition that was not painful before the wreck and makes it painful. As a result, a person who was not in need of medical attention before the wreck is forced to get treatment to get relief from pain, soreness, stiffness, and spasm caused by the aggravation.

Fortunately, the law does not relieve a negligent driver or business owner from the responsibility of hurting someone simply because there was a pre-existing spine condition that was aggravated by the negligent actor. The innocent victim is entitled to be restored back to the condition she was in before the injury. This may take the form of past medical expenses and wage losses, future medical expenses and wage losses, and pain and suffering. Unfortunately, insurance companies tend to use the pre-existing condition as an excuse to avoid taking responsibility for the damage done by the folks they insure. Dudley DeBosier works hard to ensure that none of its clients are short-changed because of pre-existing conditions.

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