Imagine driving down the road on a beautiful sunny day with not a cloud in the sky. You bring your car to a full stop at a red light — then, out of nowhere, you feel a sudden impact from the rear of your car. You’ve been rear-ended. Luckily, you did not hit your head on the steering wheel or the back of your seat because the seatbelt lock engaged and held you in place.
If this were to happen to a normal person, he or she might experience some whiplash or other temporary discomfort. But you have brittle bone syndrome, and that slight impact from being rear-ended has resulted in several broken bones and excruciating pain, leading to extensive medical treatment and lost wages.
Is the at-fault driver liable for the full extent of your injuries, even though these injuries resulted in part because you’re inherently more susceptible to injuries than a “normal” person? The answer is yes, according to an established legal doctrine known as the eggshell skull rule.
The Eggshell Skull Rule
The eggshell skull rule, also known as the thin skull rule, is a principle which says that the frailty, weakness, sensitivity, or feebleness of a victim cannot be used as a defense in a tort case. Attorneys often invoke the eggshell skull rule when the negligence of the defendant aggravates a victim’s pre-existing injury or condition.
In simple terms, the rule says you must take the victim as he or she is found and cannot speculate on what might have happened if the victim had “normal” health or did not have a particular condition that predisposed them to a severe injury. This rule protects victims from their own vulnerability, something over which they have no control.
The term comes from the idea that if an individual’s skull was especially fragile—like the shell of an egg—and another person struck them in the head, the defendant (in the event of a lawsuit) would be liable for any damages they caused when they struck the thin-skulled person. In this case, a “normal” person might have suffered from headaches or mild bruising based on the force of the blow, whereas someone with an especially fragile skull might suffer brain damage or die from the exact same hit.
Regardless of the condition of the victim, however, the eggshell skull rule says the plaintiff bears no fault for their condition and that the defendant must take full responsibility for the injuries he or she caused.
Personal Injury and the Eggshell Skull Rule
If you have a pre-existing condition which was aggravated by an accident (or that otherwise caused you to suffer unusually severe injuries in an accident), it’s important to retain a personal injury attorney who can help you get the compensation to which you may be entitled. In order to mitigate responsibility, the defendant, their attorney, and their insurance company may attempt to use your condition against you. They might try to intimidate you or scare you so that you’ll avoid filing a lawsuit or agree to a settlement that isn’t in your best interest and doesn’t address the full cost of your injuries. Without an attorney’s legal expertise and guidance, these tactics may be hard for an average person to fight back against.
In these types of cases, you will want to make sure any private, personal information, like medical documents and bills as well as your driving record, is in order and not shared with anyone besides your attorney who will know how to handle it in your best interest.
If your personal injury case goes to a court trial, the judge will decide based on arguments from both attorneys whether the eggshell skull rule applies to your case. If the judge determines that the rule applies to you, he or she will instruct the jury on their deliberations. The jury will award damages to the extent the defendant’s negligence caused injury to you or aggravated your pre-existing injury without any regard for the fact that another person may have suffered lesser injuries in a comparable situation.
If you take the car accident described at the beginning, for example, the judge in such a case would instruct the jury to consider all the medical costs associated with the accident, including how the pre-existing condition of brittle bone syndrome was exacerbated when determining the compensation the victim will receive. The judge would also instruct the jury to not take into consideration that someone without brittle bone syndrome would have significantly lower medical bills and therefore would be awarded less money.
Beyond Physical Injuries
Right now, the eggshell skull rule only applies to physical injuries. But what about other injuries? Car accidents can cause or worsen emotional trauma or distress as well as physical injuries that are not visible (also known as invisible injuries).
It is easier to apply the eggshell skull rule to visible physical injuries that can be medically treated and come with clear and concrete monetary costs (in the form of medical bills and insurance coverage). Emotional wounds and some invisible injuries, like traumatic brain injuries (TBIs) cannot be treated that way, however.
With emotional and invisible injuries, there is no straightforward way to objectively measure the amount of pain an individual experiences and equate it to the trauma associated with a physical injury — even though the emotional impacts of traumatic events are indisputably real and serious. The problem is that the field of neuroscience and its associated technology isn’t yet advanced enough to quantify emotional pain and trauma. As technology evolves, though, it may force a reexamination of how we interact with, distinguish between, and evaluate emotional and physical pain.
Contact Crosley Law Firm If You’ve Been Injured
Here at Crosley Law Firm, we understand the ins and outs of car accidents and the complexities of personal injury cases, including considerations like the eggshell skull rule, and we are prepared to fight for your interests in settlement negotiations and in the courtroom. Our dedicated and knowledgeable team or personal injury attorneys will work to get the justice and compensation you deserve. If you or someone you love has been injured in a car accident or otherwise hurt by someone else’s negligence, please contact us for a free consultation by filling out our convenient online form or calling 210-LAW-3000.
The content provided here is for informational purposes only and should not be construed as legal advice on any subject.