Preexisting Medical Conditions in Mesothelioma Cases

How a preexisting or concurrent health problem (diagnosed or otherwise) can affect your lawsuit over harm caused by asbestos exposure.

If you've been diagnosed with mesothelioma or some other illness caused by asbestos exposure, you might be curious whether a preexisting condition (whether one you actually have, or one the other side claims you have) might affect any lawsuit you decide to file.

What happens when the harm you're claiming from asbestos exposure aggravates a condition you have (or might have), or is difficult to distinguish from that condition? What if there's a plausible but altogether different medical explanation for what look like asbestos-related problems? Issues like these can certainly complicate things, but it won't necessarily prevent you from receiving fair compensation for harm associated with a substance like asbestos, which carries such well-known health risks.

Preexisting Conditions That Could Be Relevant In an Asbestos Case

Whether you've actually received a diagnosis related to any of these conditions, or have any reason to believe that they might be relevant to your case, don't be surprised to hear the asbestos manufacturer (or other defendant) argue that:

  • A chronic condition like Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD), bronchitis, asthma or even allergies could play a part in the health complications you're claiming.
  • A current or past diagnosis of lung cancer, emphysema, pneumonia, or some other respiratory condition is to blame for the symptoms you're attributing to asbestos exposure.
  • Your respiratory problems or related health issues could be owing to a past or current coronavirus infection.
  • Your current or past use of cigarettes and/or other tobacco products is the source of your health problems.
  • What looks to be peritoneal mesothelioma is actually celiac disease, Irritable Bowel Syndrome, or some other inflammatory bowel condition.

How Preexisting Conditions Complicate an Asbestos Case

When you file any kind of personal injury lawsuit, it's a well-established rule that any compensation you receive ("damages" in legalese) will not cover health conditions that existed before you were harmed or otherwise injured by the defendant's wrongdoing. However, if the at-fault party's wrongful conduct made your preexisting condition worse, the at-fault party can be held financially liable for those effects. This rule may sound simple, but given the complexity of the human body and the difficulty inherent in proving causation in certain cases, the existence of a preexisting injury or condition can make it more difficult to determine the breadth of the defendant's liability and capture the nature and extent of the plaintiff's injuries.

Causation and Preexisting Conditions

You can theoretically try to show that any preexisting/chronic respiratory problems were of a certain type or severity before you used or were otherwise exposed to asbestos, and now your health problems are more acute or intense. But there is a large degree of subjectivity here, and an asbestos manufacturer or any other defendant will almost certainly argue that you're understating the impact of your preexisting condition, or that you're exaggerating the effects of any asbestos-related illness (though this defense strategy obviously won't hold up well in the face of a clear mesothelioma diagnosis).

"Damages" and Preexisting Conditions

Even if you can prove that your asbestos exposure made your preexisting health problems worse, it can be a challenge to establish the precise amount of damages you should receive. The biggest difficulty comes when trying to determine your more subjective and intangible damages, such as "pain and suffering." It's hard enough to calculate these losses when there is no preexisting condition. But when the earlier condition is aggravated by or is very similar to the harm resulting from the defendant's wrongdoing, the task becomes even more challenging. And whatever calculations you come up with, you can be confident the defendant will argue that your final figure is excessive.

A Preexisting Injury Isn't Always a Negative

Despite the extra complications that can arise, a preexisting injury can sometimes make getting compensation easier, in the sense that a clear picture of your condition before the defendant's wrongdoing can make it easier to identify and measure the impact of the specific harm resulting from that wrongdoing.

For example, if you have indeed been diagnosed with pneumonia on two occasions in the past two years, there are going to be extensive medical records detailing your initial diagnoses and your ongoing course of medical treatment. And if nothing in those records indicates that you complained of or suffered from any of the symptoms you're currently attributing to asbestos, it's now a little bit easier for you to counter the manufacturer's argument that your current issues can be linked to something other than your use of (or exposure to) this hazardous substance.

While a preexisting condition won't doom your case, it can complicate things considerably, which is one of many reasons why working with a lawyer can be key to a positive outcome in your asbestos-mesothelioma case.

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