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Understanding auto accident case terms: asymptomatic vs. symptomatic

By William J. Price

Terms used to describe injuries in auto accident cases can be hard for those outside of the legal profession to understand.

One common example of this challenge is the difference between “asymptomatic” and “symptomatic” injuries. This concept is rarely discussed in everyday life but is a very important factor in building a personal injury case. Many clients who are unfamiliar with the terms become frustrated and confused when trying to understand their condition in the aftermath of a crash.

X-rays after an accident sometimes show “degenerative changes” to the spine or joints – meaning wear, tear, and aging that has occurred over time. While an accident doesn’t cause this type of damage, the victim could suffer new or additional pain if the symptoms are aggravated.

A client with degenerative changes in the spine or joint could be asymptomatic or symptomatic before their accident. The subtle difference can have a big impact on your case.


This means the client had no symptoms of pain or problems despite the degenerative changes in the body.


This means the client’s degenerative changes were already causing some pain or problems.

For example, if you’re symptomatic before an accident and regularly experience pain you would rate as a 2 out of 10, but the accident aggravates this pain and increases your daily pain to a 6, then the jury can consider only compensating you for this increase. If you were pain-free before the accident, but your pain levels are now at 6 following the accident, the jury can consider compensating you for both the triggering of pain earlier than it would have occurred naturally and for the level of pain you are forced to cope with.

Juries look at a number of factors when considering your pre-existing conditions to help judge how severely you were injured. This list includes your prior medical treatment, work history, daily living activities, medication, witness testimony, prior injuries, and other factors. An experienced lawyer can help you navigate this challenging part of the case.

About Elk & Elk Attorney William J. Price

William J. Price focuses his practice on personal injury litigation for people who have been seriously injured or killed as a result of medical malpractice, nursing home neglect, defective products, negligence in construction sites, and trucking and auto accidents. He has been recognized by Super Lawyers, Martindale-Hubbell, AVVO, and is a member of the Multi-Million Dollar Advocates Forum and Million Dollar Advocates Forum.