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What Is the Eggshell Skull Rule?

Jun 30, 2020 Car Accidents, Vehicle Wrecks

Imagine driving down the road on a beautiful sunny day with not a cloud in the sky. You bring your car to a stop at a red light. Then, out of nowhere, you feel a sudden impact from the rear of your vehicle. You’ve been rear-ended. Luckily, the seatbelt lock engaged and held you in place, so you did not hit your head on the steering wheel or the back of your seat.

If this were to happen to most people, they might experience some whiplash or other temporary discomfort. But you have brittle bone syndrome, and that slight rear-end impact caused several broken bones, excruciating pain, extensive medical treatment, and lost wages.

Is the driver who caused the car accident responsible for all of your injuries, even though you were hurt so badly in part because you’re more susceptible to injuries than a “normal person?” The answer is yes, because of an established legal doctrine known as the “eggshell skull rule.”

The Eggshell Skull Rule Protects People With Pre-Existing Vulnerabilities

The eggshell skull rule, also known as the thin skull rule, says that the frailty, weakness, sensitivity, or feebleness of a victim cannot be used as a defense in a personal injury claim. Attorneys often use the eggshell skull rule when an at-fault driver’s negligence aggravates a victim’s pre-existing injury or condition.

In a negligence claim, you must convince the judge or jury of four essential facts:

  • The at-fault party owed you a duty of care, like the duty to look out for pedestrians and other drivers
  • The at-fault person violated this duty of care by running a red light, texting while driving, or engaging in other reckless activities
  • The reckless conduct caused your injuries
  • You suffered damages, like wage loss, medical bills, and pain and suffering

When you have a pre-existing condition or injury, the third step, “causation,” can become complicated. Without the eggshell skull rule, insurance companies could argue that your condition was there beforehand and then use that argument to deny you compensation. However, the centuries-old rule protects victims when the crash aggravated or worsened their injuries.

Suppose your skull is especially fragile, like the shell of an egg, and another person negligently drops something on your head. While a “normal person” might only experience headaches and some bruising, the impact fractures your delicate skull. You end up in the ICU and suffer permanent disabilities. Even though your pre-existing condition contributed to your injuries, the at-fault party will still be liable for your damages.

In simple terms, the rule says you must “take the victim as you find them” and cannot speculate about what might have happened if the victim did not have a condition that predisposed them to a severe injury. This rule protects victims from their own vulnerability, something over which they have no control. 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.

How the Eggshell Skull Rule Applies in Personal Injury Claims

If a car crash or another accident aggravates your pre-existing injury or condition (or leads to a more severe injury than the typical person would suffer), you should immediately contact a personal injury lawyer. While you may be able to apply the eggshell skull rule to your claims, the insurance company is going to put up a fight. They may argue that the crash didn’t aggravate your condition at all. They may even try to intimidate you or scare you, hoping you’ll give up your legal claims or accept an unreasonably low settlement. Without an attorney’s legal expertise and guidance, you probably won’t know how to fight back.

At Crosley Law, we’ve helped people across Texas with their injury claims and lawsuits. Many of these claims involved pre-existing injuries and conditions, from degenerative disc disease and arthritis to autism. Our legal team knows how to apply courtroom experience and legal expertise to combat the insurer’s unfair tactics.

“At Crosley Law, we’ve helped people across Texas with their injury claims and lawsuits. Many of these claims involved pre-existing injuries and conditions, from degenerative disc disease and arthritis to autism. Our legal team knows how to apply courtroom experience and legal expertise to combat the insurer’s unfair tactics.”

Medical Evidence Is Essential When You Have a Pre-Existing Condition

Sometimes, it’s relatively simple to prove that a car crash worsened your condition. Let’s return to our crash victim with brittle bone syndrome. The impact of the collision clearly caused their fractures. However, most eggshell skull cases are murkier and require insight from medical experts.

For example, suppose you have degenerative disc disease. A pre-crash MRI showed a tiny disc bulge in your low back. While you’re at a red light, a distracted driver rear-ends your vehicle. A couple of days after the collision, you start to feel horrible pain that shoots down your leg.

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You call your doctor, and they schedule an MRI. This scan shows that the bulging disc is now pushing on your spinal nerves. Your doctor says you need a fusion surgery and will be unable to work for at least a couple of months. However, when you file an insurance claim, the adjuster argues that your disc was already herniated and denies compensation.

You’ll need to respond to this denial with testimony from medical and accident reconstruction experts who can evaluate your MRI images and explain how the impact worsened the herniated disc. You’ll need to collect all your medical records and imaging studies, retain the right experts, and carefully build your trial presentation to educate the jury. That’s a lot to handle on your own, and it’s why many crash victims turn to Crosley Law for help.

How Do Lawyers Address the Eggshell Skull Rule at Trial?

If your personal injury case goes to trial, the judge or jury will base their decision on the evidence and the attorneys’ arguments. Texas’ Pattern Jury Charges, which help educate juries about our laws and rules, includes instructions about the eggshell skull doctrine.

First, your lawyer will present your evidence, including witnesses, and explain the science and facts behind your case to the jury. Then, the judge will instruct the jury on their deliberations., including information about the eggshell skull rule. Finally, if the jury decides that the defendant’s negligence aggravated your condition, you will receive damages.

Let’s return to our car accident example — the one in which you’re a driver with brittle bone syndrome. Your lawyer would likely present experts and evidence that explains your rare medical condition and how the crash caused your injuries. (The defense attorney would then try to counter or undermine those arguments.) After the lawyers finished their presentations, the judge would give the jury instructions about the law. These instructions would include the following:

Do not include any amount for any condition existing before the occurrence in question, except to the extent, if any, that such other condition was aggravated by any injuries that resulted from the occurrence in question.

Then, the jury would consider all of this information and issue a verdict.

Does the Eggshell Skull Rule Apply to Emotional Injuries and Mental Health Conditions?

Car accidents can cause or worsen emotional trauma or distress. It’s easier to apply the eggshell skull rule to physical injuries that can be identified on MRIs and x-rays. It’s much harder to explain how the emotional trauma of a crash worsened your anxiety or depression.

The emotional impacts of traumatic events are undeniably real and severe. But 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. 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.

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Here at Crosley Law, we understand the ins and outs of car accidents and the complexities of personal injury cases, including considerations like the eggshell skull rule. We’re ready to fight for your interests in settlement negotiations and the courtroom. Our dedicated and knowledgeable team of personal injury attorneys will work to get you 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 schedule your free, no-risk consultation by calling  210-LAW-3000 | 210-529-3000 or completing this brief online contact form.

References

Tex. P.J.C. 28.9. Retrieved from https://texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth639249/m1/375/

The content provided here is for informational purposes only and should not be construed as legal advice on any subject.

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