Exacerbation vs. Aggravation in Personal Injury and Worker's Compensation Cases

Understanding medical terminology is essential in Indiana personal injury and worker's compensation cases. For those who don’t work in the medical field, these terms can be confusing and make it difficult to understand what’s going on in a case. Lawyers who practice in the area of personal injury and worker's compensation, like Charles Hewins of Hewins Law Firm, understand what these terms mean, and how they can affect your injury or worker's compensation case.  “Exacerbation” and “aggravation” are two commonly used medical terms. They have similar definitions and can be easy to mix up, but the difference is very important when it comes to understanding the value of your personal injury or worker's compensation case.  Doctors' opinions about whether your sustained an exacerbation or aggravation of a pre-exiting condition can also significantly impact the type of medical care that an insurance company may be responsible for, now and in the future.  So it stands to reason that if you don't understand these two terms and what they mean for your injury, it can significantly impact negotiating a settlement with the insurance company.

The Difference Between Exacerbation and Aggravation

The terms “exacerbation” and “aggravation” are both used to describe situations in which a pre-existing injury or other medical condition is affected by a new injury.  A pre-existing condition is considered exacerbated when it is made worse temporarily by the new injury but the victim will at some point be in the same physical condition he or she was in before the new injury. On the other hand, if the pre-existing condition has been made worse permanently by the subsequent injury, the pre-existing injury is said to have been aggravated.

In other words:

  • Exacerbation means that, after some time to heal, your injury will return to its baseline condition.
  • Aggravation means that your underlying condition is permanently worsened as a result of your injury.


How Exacerbation vs. Aggravation Affect Your Personal Injury Case

Everyone already knows that if you've been in a car wreck that's not your fault, you are entitled to recover damages for your injuries caused by the at-fault driver.  The value of those damages is usually proportional to the severity of your injury.  Now, you obviously hope you aren't injured in a car wreck, but if you are, don't you want to be sure that the negligent driver's insurance company compensations you appropriately for your injury?  This is where exacerbation vs. aggravation comes into play.

Since an injury involving an exacerbation means that your pre-existing medical condition will eventually return to its baseline, the value of that type of case is typically not as high as an injury involving an aggravation.  That does not mean the case has no value, though.  The negligent driver's insurance company remains responsible for all the medical care you needed to get yourself back to your baseline.  For some injuries, that may mean a few doctor's visits and some physical therapy.  But even with exacerbation-type injuries, the recovery can be a long and slow process.  So, before you ever consider settling with an insurance company, you need to have a clear understanding from your doctors about whether you have already returned to baseline, or whether you will require additional care in the future before that happens.  Opinions from your doctors can make a big difference in the value of your case.


As you can imagine, an aggravated injury is typically going to require much more medical attention and could potentially disable the victim for life. This means aggravated injuries are more expensive for insurance companies. Because of this, some doctors hired by insurance companies to assess the victim’s injuries may diagnose an aggravated injury as an exacerbated injury. In order to be sure this doesn’t happen to you, review your records; and if necessary, consult with an attorney who can help you understand and find out if insurance companies are trying to pull a fast one on you.