After suffering an injury from a negligent party, an attorney may discuss with you the “eggshell skull” rule, which states that a negligent person will be legally responsible for the harm he or she causes to an individual, even if the victims suffered exorbitant harm compared to the average person. The rule received its name from a common example that professors use in law school, of a fictional person with a skull as fragile as an eggshell. If an accident would have only bruised the average person’s head, but it killed the person with the fragile skull, the defendant would be liable for the plaintiff’s actual damages, regardless of whether someone else likely would not have suffered such severe harm.
The Eggshell Skull Rule in Negligence Claims
The law holds that it is fair for an injured person to receive compensation for the harm that he or she suffered. A defendant must therefore compensate the plaintiff for all medical bills, pain and suffering, and lost wages the act of negligence or carelessness caused, even if these damages are excessive in relation to other people. The defendant must take the plaintiff as they find them, not as a comparable person might have been. This includes medical conditions that are invisible and unknown to the defendant.
For example, say Driver A recently recovered from a serious neck injury that occurred at work. Driver B rear-ends Driver A, and Driver A suffers whiplash. The collision also causes a flare-up of Driver A’s pre-existing neck injury, putting her out of work for an additional six weeks. Driver B would be liable for compensating Driver A, not only for the damages relating to the whiplash injury, but also for the six weeks of lost wages due to a flare-up of her old injury. Driver B must take Driver A “as he/she finds her,” which happens to be with a pre-existing neck injury, in this example. It does not matter if a victim without a preexisting injury would have suffered fewer damages; the courts will hold Driver B liable for Driver A’s actual damages.
The eggshell skull rule will only pertain to pre-existing injuries or conditions that the accident in question exacerbated. It does not deal with injuries the accident did not further harm or affect. It is up to the plaintiff and their attorney to prove that the defendant’s actions caused the damages for which the plaintiff is seeking recovery. If the plaintiff seeks compensation for a pre-existing head injury, for example, they will have to prove that the defendant caused or contributed to the injury. The plaintiff’s attorney can help prove cases involving preexisting conditions.
How to Handle an Insurance Claim With a Preexisting Injury
After an accident that exacerbates an injury, illness, or condition that already existed, it is in your best interest to be open and honest about your full health status and medical history. An insurance company will be able to access your medical records and find that you had a pre-existing condition. Do not try to cover up the fact that you had a previous injury in the same location as your new injuries. Concealing previous conditions can ultimately make it more difficult to recover damages, as the insurer might allege that you are exaggerating your injuries or fabricating symptoms.
Instead of covering up pre-existing injuries, know that the defendant will legally have to compensate you for all of your accident related damages. Do not worry that a pre-existing injury will bar you from recovery. Disclose your full medical history as it is relevant to your case for insurance companies and for your attorney. This information will help your attorney fight for the compensation you need for all of your losses, not just new injuries that occurred in the accident. As a plaintiff, the eggshell skull rule can work in your favor.
If you have been involved in a car accident, contact an experienced attorney, like those at Kaufman Law, with any questions concerning your potential case.