If some one causes a car accident that results in an injury, to what extent are they responsible for the injury? What if the injured person sustains further injury through subsequent malpractice by the emergency room doctors? what if they get an infection int he hospital which leads to a much more serious condition than the injury caused in the car accident? Also, what if the person involved in a car accident already had a medical condition which made their injury worse, such a as bad back or recent surgery that had not healed?
Under Missouri personal injury law, the person that caused the initial injury, also referred to as the original tortfeasor, is legally liable for subsequent injury through negligent medical care. So for example, the original tortfeasor caused a car crash in Missouri, the victim suffered a broken leg and was taken to the hospital where they catch a staph infection or other nasty bug, the original tortfeasor (the negligent driver) is responsible not only for the broken leg but the subsequent infection, regardless if it was caused by medical negligence or not. The only defense to the subsequent infection would be a "failure to mitigate damage defense" basically an accusation that the victim somehow caused the subsequent injury (the infection in this example) themselves or failed to prevent it when they easily could have. So in the infection example, if there is evidence that the victim failed to properly care for their would after being sent home, that could be a defense. But generally subsequent negligence is not a defense and the driver is responsible for injuries, such as infections, that can occur after the car accident.
See Baldwin v. Gaertner, 613 S.W.2d 638, 640 (Mo Banc 1981), stating:
An original tortfeasor may be liable for any additional damages resulting from the negligent treatment of an injury by a physician, but the physician, who has played no part in causing the original injury, will be liable only for the additional harm caused by his or her own negligence in treatment
A case dealing with this issue we currently are handling:
We represent a bike rider that was hit by an O'Reilly AutoParts truck while he was riding on the sidewalk. The bike rider was rehabilitating his knee by bike riding as he had a knee replacement just a few weeks earlier. So when he was hit by the truck his knee was injured much more than if he had a healthy knee. Additionally, while in the hospital repairing his knee injury, he caught a staph infection in his knee which resulted in several weeks spent in the hospital. The truck driver that caused the St Louis bike accident is also responsible for the additional medical treatment from the infection.
Additionally, many people ask me about a negligent driver's responsibility for a pre-existing condition. Some people feel that if a victim of a car crash already had a pre-existing condition (example, disc herniation and previous back surgery) and the accident makes that condition worse, that the driver should not be responsible because if the victim did not have that pre-existing injury then the accident would not have hurt them as bad. Some people feel that you are responsible for the injury regardless if the victim was more susceptible to injury through a pre-existing condition or not. Under Missouri law they are responsible for the victim regardless if they have a condition that makes them more susceptible to injury than the average person.
Missouri follows the "Eggshell Skull Doctrine" , meaning you take your victim as you find them. The fact they have some condition or pre-existing injury that makes them more susceptible to injury is not a defense. So in the Missouri bike injury case above, the truck driver cannot defend the case by claiming a biker without a recent knee surgery would not have been hurt as badly, additionally, the truck driver cannot claim they are not responsible for the subsequent infection, as it is foreseeable that a hospital admission for a bike injury could result in an infection, even if it is because of medical negligence.
Ben Sansone is an experienced Missouri trial lawyer based in St Louis and handles injury law and accident cases throughout Missouri and Illinois. Call for a FREE CONSULTATION (314) 863-0500 or e-mail us.