What’s the Big Deal With Acute and Chronic Injuries?

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Clients often confuse acute and chronic injuries, assuming that they are interchangeable. Knowing the difference can be vital in making or breaking cases.
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So what’s the difference?
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An acute injury is a sudden change in the body’s anatomy. If you were able to move your arm with ease, and then were involved in a crash that severely damaged your mobility – it’s a dog attack, or a tear in muscle. They can be caused by a rapid impact or movement, usually due to a single, sudden, unforeseen event.
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On the other hand, a chronic injury is sustained gradually. Chronic injuries can happen through overuse of a body part or joint. This type of injury is progressive and gets worse over time. This happens slowly, while for acute injuries, they usually occur in an instant.
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Think of the infamous Rice Krispies Cereal when thinking this type of injury – “Snap, Crackle, Pop”

Chronic injuries are often harder to prove for a case. Because there is no contemporaneous documentation, bleeding, swelling, discoloration, fracture, dislocation, or audible sign (i.e., a “snap, crackle, or pop”). It can be a long process to pinpoint how the injury occurred and if the defendant is to blame. Unless the event made it miserably worse, it’s going to be difficult to convince the jury of the damage and there may be no reimbursement because of the lack of proof. In some cases, there is a pre-crash x-ray, MRI or other diagnostic study to compare as against films taken afterwards. That is compelling evidence of “Before vs. After.” However, most people, if they are not having symptoms, do not get routine MRIs, EMGs, CT scans or x-rays.

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Doug Landau examining a client’s x-ray, specifically a fracture on the leg.

In many cases, the insurance defense lawyers will argue that while the disabled victim has pain in their back, limited range of motion in their neck, or degenerative disc disease, that this was a long time coming, that they had a hard-working life, and that it is not related to the crash caused by their client. They will argue that the injured plaintiff would had needed the same treatment, surgery, physical therapy etc., as the process of her arthritis, tendinitis, bursitis, etc., as well as way before the unsafe defendant crashed in to them. Where the injured plaintiff has treated with a family doctor, internist, or primary care physician for a long time before, as well as after a crash, that physician may be in a good position to render an opinion as to whether not the current need for treatment, disability, and/or permanency, are all, or partially related to the crash. It is not enough for the plaintiff to claim that they had pain after a crash. That is simply “temporal causation.” In many cases, there needs to be “actual causation,” where the doctor can pinpoint a specific, anatomical change in the body, that was caused by the defendant’s unsafe conduct at that instant.

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If the plaintiff’s present condition at the time of trial is simply due to passage of time, chronic or degenerative changes, then they cannot recover for a pre-existing condition. In many courts, the law only allows for compensation for new injury, the amount by which a pre-existing condition was made worse &/or more expensive to treat, or where the accident accelerated an underlying condition.
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If you, or someone you care for, has any questions regarding personal injuries or needs assistance, please contact us at frontdesk@landaulawshop.com  or call (703) 796-9555.