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Eggshell Skull Rule: How it Impacts Your Accident Case

Tue 31 Jan, 2023 / by / Personal Injury

Imagine that you are glancing down at your phone and, just as you glance up, realize that you are going to rear-end the vehicle in front of you stopped at the light. As you plow into the back of the vehicle, you know nothing about the occupant in the car–their gender, their age, their overall health. This is because no two accident victims are the same. We all have unique histories and characteristics.

The law protects all victims, whether they are healthy or ill, old or young. Anyone can get monetary recovery from a person who has caused an injury, no matter whether they have pre-existing conditions or are totally healthy. This is due to a legal principle called the “eggshell skull rule.” Read on to learn more about what this principle is and its application.

What is the Eggshell Skull Rule?

The eggshell skull rule comes from an example used to teach this intuitive principle in law school. If there is a man with a medical condition that makes his skill as delicate as an eggshell, he would be more likely to suffer severe injury than others due to this medical condition.

The eggshell skull rule is a principle in common law. Essentially, a defendant will be liable for a plaintiff’s reactions to a defendant’s negligent or intentional tort–even if those reactions are uncommon and unforeseeable.

What does this mean in non-legal terms? Basically, if you do something either purposefully or accidentally–and it causes harm to a person–you can be civilly liable, even if that person reacts in a way that is unexpected. 

For instance, suppose you are speeding through a grocery store with your cart and you strike someone with it. The other person is a seemingly healthy looking 30-year-old. What you do not know is that this person recently had back surgery. This person will now have to undergo months of rehabilitation, and you could be on the hook for those medical bills.

Doesn’t the Eggshell Skull Theory Seem Really Unfair?

At first glance, this principle may seem unfair. How could you possibly know that this healthy person had back surgery? If you hit another 30-year-old, they might just have a simple bruise.

However, this legal principle boils down to you taking the person as they are. If you put the shoe on the other foot, and it was you who was injured, you would want to get all of the damages that you are owed, not just what an average person your age would get. 

The interesting thing to note is that while you will be held liable for any consequences stemming from your actions–whether or not they were foreseeable–you do not have a duty to change your actions as you go through your life. For instance, if you are selling candy and someone loses a crown on it, that is not your problem. People who interact with you have to also take caution to avoid harm. If they have had dental work, they probably should refrain from eating sticky caramel. You are not prohibited from selling caramel simply because some people have had dental work. In other words, you can only be held liable for violating a standard of care owed to an ordinary person, even if the person who is affected has pre-existing conditions. 

How Does the Eggshell Skull Rule Apply to Personal Injury Claims?

The purpose of the eggshell skull rule is to allow the plaintiff to get full compensation following an injury, preventing him or her from receiving less financial compensation due to some pre-existing medical condition or injury that a plaintiff had at the time of the accident. A defendant, then, will be held liable for all of the consequences of his actions, even if those actions were unforeseeable.

Do People With Pre-Existing Conditions Simply Get More Money in Personal Injury Lawsuits?

People who have pre-existing conditions do not necessarily “hit the jackpot” when they are the victims of intentional or negligent torts. That is, they will not get compensation for an injury suffered by virtue of the fact that they have a pre-existing condition. Rather, that injury that they suffered must cause consequences that impact that pre-existing condition.

For instance, suppose a person has Type 2 diabetes and they slip and fall at a store. Having Type 2 diabetes makes healing more difficult. A person with Type 2 diabetes who slips and falls at a store may have more extensive medical bills due to a longer recovery. 

However, if that person suffers a heart attack three weeks later, they cannot go to the store owner for those medical bills. Unless the person had a heart attack as a result of anxiety during the fall, they cannot ask for compensation for that medical condition. Or, if you have asthma, you cannot file a personal injury complaint and ask for more damages simply because you have a pre-existing condition. 

What About Pre-Existing Conditions Such as Mental Health Conditions?

The eggshell skull rule can be applied to physical damages. However, it generally cannot be applied to emotional damages (such as pain and suffering). Some people may have pre-existing conditions such as depression or post-traumatic stress disorder. Accidents can trigger someone with one of these conditions to have nightmares or anxiety, and those with mental health conditions can experience these more acutely. However, victims typically cannot hold defendants responsible for additional noneconomic damages that stem from mental health disorders due to the eggshell skull theory. There are some cases in various states where this has not been the case, but it is not the norm. However, the victim can get some compensation for noneconomic losses caused by the accident.

The Importance of Hiring an Attorney When Pursuing a Personal Injury Case

Every state in America has a version of the eggshell skull rule on the books. Insurance companies know this, but they will do whatever is possible to pay as little as possible, leading you to believe that you should receive less compensation due to you having a pre-existing condition. You may be entitled to more money than insurers let on. Hire an experienced personal injury attorney to help you receive all of what you are owed.