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Eggshell Plaintiff Rule

How Will My Pre-Existing Condition Affect My Personal Injury Case?

Injuries that a person sustains in a car wreck or other personal injury event can take a heavy physical, emotional and financial toll on the victim. This toll can be even more severe if the person had any pre-existing conditions before they were involved in the accident. Many victims in this situation are unsure of how their pre-existing conditions will affect their claim. It is important to understand the law surrounding this area and properly handle prior injuries or conditions with the insurance companies and/or legal parties involved.

The Eggshell Plaintiff Rule

The Eggshell Plaintiff Rule, also known as the “Eggshell Skull” or “Peculiar Susceptibility” Rule, is a well-established but complicated legal doctrine that can make a defendant liable for the injured plaintiff’s uncommon reactions to the defendant’s intentional or negligent behavior.

Under this rule, a defendant can be liable for all of the plaintiff’s injuries even if the plaintiff has a physical or mental condition that made them more susceptible to injury than a person in regular good health. This can be a pre-existing injury or physical or mental condition.

Foreseeability Issues

In any personal injury action, whether it is for negligence or an intentional tort (personal injury cause of action), the plaintiff must be able to prove as an element of the negligence or other tort that their injuries were a foreseeable consequence of the defendant’s actions. In Eggshell Plaintiff world, the defendant usually will not know of the plaintiff’s underlying condition and could not have expected that the person had an unusual susceptibility to that type of injury. However, it is enough here that some actionable injury to the plaintiff was foreseeable, even if the extent of those injuries was not.

Activated vs. Aggravated

In determining how the Eggshell Plaintiff Rule applies to any particular case, it needs to be determined whether the plaintiff’s pre-existing condition or particular susceptibility was 1) activated/triggered by the defendant’s negligence, or 2) merely aggravated by the negligence. The burden of proof is on the injured plaintiff to prove aggravation or activation of a preexisting injury. Parsing apart whether negligence activated or aggravated a pre-existing condition can be an extremely difficult analysis that requires critical medical analysis and the experience of a personal injury attorney.

Activation versus aggravation of a pre-existing condition is an important analysis because there is a rebuttal to the Eggshell Plaintiff/Eggshell Skull Rule known as the Crumbling Skull Rule. This doctrine argues that the victim’s injuries were inevitable and the defendant’s actions had only a minimal effect on their already deteriorating circumstances. This rule serves to make the defendant liable for the injuries that they caused, but not for any debilitating effects of the pre-existing condition.

For example, say Joe had a bad back already and had to attend physical therapy once weekly to manage his pain. Nick then hits Joe with his car because Nick was driving negligently. Joe injures his back further in the wreck, to the point that he now needs physical therapy three times a week. In this case, Nick could be liable for the two additional weekly physical therapy sessions Joe needs for aggravating Joe’s pre-existing condition.

If, however, it cannot be determined whether the plaintiff’s condition would have existed without the injury (i.e. whether the defendant triggered the condition or aggravated it), the defendant can be liable for the entirety of the plaintiff’s damages. If Joe had Brittle Bone Syndrome (osteogenesis imperfecta, a real disorder) and broke his arm when Nick negligently hit him with his car, it would be practically impossible to determine whether Joe’s arm would have been broken if Nick had hit him and he did not have the disorder. This would mean Nick could be liable for all of Joe’s damages.

The chart below summarizes the general applicability of the Eggshell Plaintiff Rule.

If the plaintiff...And the defendant...Then the defendant is liable for...
Is of ‘ordinary susceptibility’/healthDid not act with reasonable care (i.e. breach of duty)All the plaintiff’s injuries
Had a pre-existing condition/ “peculiar susceptibility”Aggravates the pre-existing condition with their negligenceAggravation of/additional injuries only
Activates a dormant or latent disease/injury, or one to which the plaintiff is predisposedAll of the plaintiff’s injuries
It cannot be determined whether or not the negligence activated or aggravated the condition

If you have been injured with a pre-existing physical or mental condition, it is important to speak with an experienced personal injury attorney. This can be a complicated area of the law, in addition to the fact that dealing with insurance claims when you have pre-existing conditions can be extremely difficult. Arnold & Smith, PLLC is an aggressive personal injury litigation firm in Charlotte, North Carolina. Mr. Arnold began his career in insurance law and offers this enhanced insight to his wealth of experience in obtaining the monetary compensation injured victims deserve in personal injury cases. Contact our office today for an initial consultation about your case with one of our dedicated personal injury attorneys.

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