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Legally Reviewed by:

Jonathan Rosenfeld
J.D

October 20, 2022

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There is a rule in personal injury claims that the defendant takes their victim as they find them. It does not matter what condition the plaintiff was in before the accident. The defendant is liable to pay for the damages that they have caused to the specific and unique plaintiff.

This principle is personified by the term “eggshell skull rule.” While the phrase sounds somewhat extreme, it stands for the fact that a jury will hold the defendant liable for physical injuries, even if the plaintiff has an eggshell skull that could be cracked by anything.

If you or a loved one have been injured in an accident, the attorneys at Rosenfeld Injury lawyers can help you fight for the financial compensation that you deserve when someone else was to blame for what happened.

A General Statement of the Eggshell Skull Rule

Courts consider the eggshell skull rule as the following in a personal injury claim:

When a defendant commits a tort, and some type of injury may be reasonably anticipated, the at-fault party is liable for all the effects of that tort, even if the injury would not have happened had the victim been in perfect health.

There is no speculation about what would have happened had another plaintiff with different characteristics been injured in the action.

The Origin of the Eggshell Skull Rule

The Wisconsin Supreme Court was among the first jurisdictions to announce the eggshell skull rule. In an 1891 case, one child kicked another in the shin, not knowing that the child had a tibia infection. The kick prevented the child from recovering, and they lost full use of their leg.

The court held that the child who kicked the other was liable for the full extent of the injury, even though he was unaware of the other child’s predisposition to injury.

The legal doctrine took its name from a 1901 English case where the family filed a wrongful death case when their loved one died from a minor bump to the head.

They had a thinner skulls than the average person. The court held that the fact a normal person with a thicker skull may have only suffered a bump should not prevent the family from recovering.

Since then, generations of law students have been learning about the egg shell skull rule.

The Eggshell Skull Rule Is a Jury Instruction

In general, the eggshell skull rule is not about aggravating a pre-existing condition. The defendant would need to pay if the accident made a pre-existing condition worse.

The plaintiff would need to request at the beginning of the trial that the judge give the eggshell skull rule as a jury instruction. Your personal injury lawyer would need to present evidence that shows your condition before the accident. They would need to present medical records and testimony from physicians about your pre-existing injury.

The eggshell skull rule is about a plaintiff who has a greater susceptibility to injury. For example, the Iowa Supreme Court distinguished between the two in a case where the plaintiff suffered from a degenerative disc condition in her neck.

She requested an eggshell skull rule instruction to the jury, but the trial court denied the motion. The Iowa Supreme Court affirmed, explaining that she aggravated an existing injury, but did not show that she had a greater susceptibility to injury.

The Eggshell Skull Rule Protects Victims

The rule protects victims because the requirement to prove causation could make it difficult for those with pre-existing injuries to show that they deserve damages in a personal injury case.

There are four elements that you must show in order to become legally entitled to personal injury damages. After you have shown that the at-fault party owed a duty of care to you that they violated, the fourth element of the test is causation. You must show that you would not have been injured had it not been for the actions of the defendant.

One way that defendants try to avoid liability is to argue that a claim fails in proving causation when the plaintiff had a susceptibility to the injury because of a pre-existing condition.

The eggshell skull rule is a relief for the plaintiff who may not otherwise be able to draw a direct connection between the extent of their harm and the defendant’s actions because of their own medical condition.

The Eggshell Skull Rule Does Not Mean a Higher Duty of Care

This legal rule relates to causation and damages and does not impose a higher duty of care when there are people involved who are predisposed to injury. A person must exercise the same degree of care towards everyone.

The same usual negligence rules apply in determining whether the defendant acted unreasonably under the circumstances. The plaintiff just gets some extra help when the doctrine applies in terms of causation.

The Eggshell Skull Rule Is Different from the Crumbling Skull Doctrine

There are some limitations to the eggshell skull rule. The crumbling skull rule is that the defendant does not have to put the plaintiff in a better position than they were before the accident. Instead, they have a legal obligation to restore the plaintiff to the position that they were in before the accident.

In other words, they would only need to pay the medical bills necessary to repair the damage done by the accident, as opposed to completely fixing the pre-existing condition in the first place.

As a result, insurance companies try to muddy the waters in eggshell skull cases. They will often claim that the number of damages that you are seeking would be a windfall to you and would put you in a better position. You would need an experienced attorney to help you prove your damages and show that you are merely seeking money that would restore you to your pre-accident position.

Other Applications of the Eggshell Skull Doctrine in Personal Injury Claims

Another way of stating this legal doctrine is by explaining that the responsible party must pay when the plaintiff has brittle bone syndrome. The accident victim may never have suffered an injury if it was not for their own pre-existing condition. In the scheme of things, what the plaintiff was like before the accident does not matter.

Severe Injury from an Intentional Tort

The eggshell skull rule came about from a case of an intentional tort. A court will hold a defendant liable for an assault in addition to criminal penalties that they may face.

When an assailant attacks someone, they do not know the specific condition of the person that they are striking. The person may have a predisposition or medical conditions that would lead to a severely damaged skull from a physical attack.

The eggshell skull rule states that the defendant must pay for injuries the plaintiff suffers no matter what the assailant knew or did not know before they attacked the plaintiff.

The Same Legal Doctrine Applies in a Car Accident

The rule in personal injury cases is that you “take your victim as you find them.” For example, in a car accident, the plaintiff could suffer a more severe injury because of a pre-existing condition. Even if the average person would not have suffered the injury, the responsible driver would still need to pay for the harm that this particular victim suffered.

Damages When You Have a Pre Existing Medical Condition

One of the classic cases of the thin skull rule actually has nothing to do with the skull. Some defendants could suffer severe injury to their neck or back when they already have a pre-existing injury. The accident may have aggravated the initial injury and either made it worse or caused it to resurface after previously going away.

It does not matter what your condition was like before the accident and that you may not have been in the same health as a “normal person.” The eggshell skull rule applies, and the defendant must pay damages based on the difference in your condition before the accident and what you are like now.

The Eggshell Skull Rule May Apply to Emotional Injuries

In any personal injury case, the plaintiff is entitled to pain and suffering for the experience that they have had to endure since the accident. Accident victims can suffer both physical and emotional discomfort from their injuries.

Some accident victims may be more predisposed to emotional harm than the average plaintiff. The injured person may have existing mental conditions that could be made worse by the accident injuries. They may have pre-existing vulnerabilities because they already suffer from depression or anxiety,

The responsible party would need to pay based on the condition of this particular plaintiff. A defendant does not get to pick and choose when they have acted carelessly, recklessly, or intentionally.

The second that they violate their own duties, they become legally responsible no matter who they hurt. In other words, they surrender all control over the outcome through their own actions.

How emotional injuries are treated depends on the rule in your state. Different jurisdictions have varying rules for this type of injury.

The Insurance Company Will Try to Make Your Case More Difficult

An insurance company will have a number of games that they will use to avoid taking full responsibility for the claimant’s injuries. They want to minimize the defendant’s liability, and they will do whatever is necessary to pay as little as they can for a claim.

Personal injury attorneys are here to fight your battle with the insurance company. They will stand up when you are offered less money than you deserve in a settlement. The insurer will either try to downplay your injuries, or they may claim that your serious injury was caused by something other than their policyholder’s actions.

Your Damages in Personal Injury Cases

In any personal injury claim, you may be legally entitled to the following damages:

  • The complete cost of your medical treatment
  • Lost wages for the time that you have missed from work or a reduction in your earning capacity
  • Pain and suffering for the experience that you have had to endure since the accident
  • Loss of enjoyment of life
  • Embarrassment and humiliation
  • Scarring and disfigurement

If your loved one died in an accident such as a car crash or any other mishap (or intentional tort), you can file a wrongful death claim against the responsible party.

Contact an Experienced Personal Injury Lawyer for a Free Consultation

If you are wondering can the eggshell skull rule applies in my case, you should seek help from an experienced personal injury attorney.

The attorneys at Rosenfeld Injury Lawyers can help you recover damages for your personal injury, even when you suffer from pre-existing conditions. We will investigate your accident, focusing on the defendant’s negligent actions and the injuries caused by them.

Your first step is to contact us, either by sending us a message through our website or by calling us at (888) 424-5757. As always, the consultation costs you nothing, and you pay us nothing unless we can help you win your case against the negligent party.

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