Can Your Body Affect Your Settlement Value?

plus size girl measure weight

I recently settled the second step of a case for my client. First, in May, we obtained the full policy limits for the at-fault party. Then, in January of 2024, we settled the Underinsured Motorist (UIM) claim.

My client, S, drove through an intersection (she had no lights or traffic control devices to observe) when suddenly, a driver shot through the red light and turned left in front of her. She had no chance to avoid the crash, and it was serious.

S experienced back problems as a result. Seems like a straightforward case, right?

There is never anything straightforward about any case!

How did my client’s weight affect those settlements? What about her prior back issues?

Body Weight, Prior Injuries

As my client, S, went through treatment for her severe back problems, ultimately resulting in a back surgery, I began assembling her medical records and bills. In reading these, I noted her body weight. We all understand that obesity can impact back problems. I saw what she weighed and it was a large number. I read some other medical notes and saw she had (as she’d told me) recently put on quite a bit of weight and that she had previously had back problems, but was never a surgical candidate before.

Any insurance company that isn’t asleep at the switch will try to make these things into issues. I wanted to be prepared. So I got the whole story from S.

She’d put on close to 100 pounds during the pandemic. She works from home. But that wasn’t all. She’d put on the weight taking care of both aging and ailing parents. She told me stories of her dying parents eating barely anything, while she ate what they left while in tears. Emotional eating. Stress eating. We’ve all been there. Now, at least, I knew how to best argue this point.

I also read the medical records carefully to see exactly what her prior back injury diagnosis was, how it was treated, and went through her regular daily routines and what she’d been able to do and not do as compared to following this crash. There was a significant change for the worse in her condition following this crash.

How it Came Together

As I’ve written about many times, cases are often controlled by liability, injuries, and also insurance limits.

In reality, we will almost never be able to obtain more money than there is insurance. It’s just reality.

In S’s case, she was operating her brother’s car. The other driver had minimal limits of only $50,000.00. Once I knew she’d recovered from the back surgery, I immediately made a demand for the policy limits. The carrier tried raising the issues of prior injury and body weight. But even once that was factored in, it determined the case was easily worth far in excess of those limits and tendered the $50,000.00.

Thus, we moved on to the UIM portion of the case, which was a different insurer. There, the limits available were significantly more. The big question was how much we could blame this crash for her injuries, rather than her prior back problems or her body weight.

Because nothing is ever easy, obvious, or straightforward in my world, the insurance carrier pushed back. It wanted to review all of her prior medical records.

I could have told them to pound sand and demanded to proceed to arbitration.

But I didn’t. Because I knew the prior records would prove my client had been functional and not a surgical candidate.

So I spent hundreds of dollars and obtained medical records going back several years. I tendered them to the insurer.

And waited.

The Value of a Personal Relationship

The adjuster handling the case and I spoke on the phone frequently, often about the case but also about other things. For example, I reminded her that I had once cleaned her office.

That’s right. Back in the 80’s, one of my summer jobs was working as a custodian at the headquarters of a large national insurance company. I cleaned offices all over the complex, and almost always could confirm that I’d once cleaned the office in which a particular adjuster used. The adjuster found that ironic and funny.

I also learned she was retiring in January of 2024. At one point in November, she told me this was the last case she’d ever review in her career.

She always called to give me a heads up on what she and the insurer were thinking. Potential roadblocks to settlement.

And we discussed the prior medical problems, the weight gain, everything. We were on the same page. It turns out that my head-on discussion of these issues had taken away any arguments she had against me. The medical records supported my theory.

And then, in mid-January, I got a call from the adjuster with an offer. I talked to my client. S was already overjoyed and thought we should take what was offered. I told her to wait and I’d get some more.

And I got a lot more. It was a very fair settlement and it avoided a one- to two-year delay to proceed to arbitration where there was no guarantee we’d get that much or more and where we’d spend several thousand dollars in additional costs.

A win-win for everyone involved.

I shot down potential arguments proactively. I addressed potential weaknesses in my client’s case right away. I obtained additional medical (or proof of no medical treatment) as requested. And I wrapped it up to my client’s satisfaction, actually far exceeding her expectations.

Nothing straightforward about that.


  • Your prior medical history and health can affect the valuation of your case
  • An experienced personal injury attorney will know how to anticipate and counter defense arguments about a plaintiff’s pre-existing injuries
  • Never underestimate the value of an attorney who knows how to communicate effectively with insurance adjusters

Contact Chicago Personal Injury Lawyer Stephen Hoffman

As in all cases involving car accidents, dog bites or injuries, workers’ compensation, medical malpractice, or other injury and potential liability, if you have been in a car crash, get medical treatment, report the crash to police and your own insurance company, and contact a lawyer with expertise in your type of case, such as bicycle accidents or pedestrians hit by cars.

If you've been in an accident and have questions, contact Chicago personal injury attorney Stephen L. Hoffman for a free consultation at (773) 944-9737. Stephen has over 30 years of legal experience and has collected millions of dollars for his clients. He is listed as a SuperLawyer, has a 10.0 rating on Avvo, and is BBB A+ accredited. He is also an Executive Level Member of the Lincoln Square Ravenswood Chamber of Commerce.

Stephen handles personal injury claims on a contingency fee basis, which means you don’t pay anything up front and he only gets paid if you do. Don’t wait another day; contact Stephen now.

Categories: Personal Injury