A defendant must take a plaintiff as he finds him and hence may be held liable in damages for aggravation of a preexisting illness. Nor may defendants avail themselves of the argument that plaintiff should be denied recovery because his condition might have occurred even without the accident.
On October 4, 1976, plaintiff was involved in a four-car chain reaction collision in Niagara Falls for which defendants were found liable. Plaintiff sustained relatively minor injuries consisting of whiplash and cervical and lower back strain for which he was treated with muscle relaxants and physical therapy but was not hospitalized. Subsequently, however, he suffered an acute psychotic breakdown from which he has not recovered. The theory on which plaintiff's case was tried was that the accident aggravated a preexisting paranoid schizophrenic condition which has totally and permanently disabled him. The trial court granted the liable parties' motion to set aside the jury verdict and to order a new trial unless the injured party would stipulate to a reduced verdict. The injured party refused to so stipulate and appealed.
Are defendants liable for the aggravation of the pre-existing illness of the plaintiff?
The court reversed the order and reinstated the verdict. The court found that the trial court record presented ample evidence that the plaintiff suffered from a psychotic illness but that he had been able to function in a relatively normal manner until the time of the accident. The court held that the liable parties were obligated to take the injured party as they found him and that they were, thus, liable for damages for the aggravation of a preexisting illness.