The Eggshell Skull Rule is a legal doctrine that states that any individual who causes harm to another cannot use the frailty of the injured individual as a legit defense.

Before applying the eggshell skull rule, the following factors are first enacted into consideration that make the plaintiff vulnerable to harm:

  • Physical factors
  • Social factors
  • Economic factor

Many law schools will use the example of a person with a very fragile skull like an “eggshell.” This person appears normal to the outside world, but unfortunately is extremely feeble and frail. In the event that a large individual who isn’t paying attention rear ends this individual in their vehicle and they die as a result of their injuries, the eggshell rule (or thin skull rule) states that the person who caused the death is responsibility for the resulting damage.

Where Does The Eggshell Rule Apply?

The eggshell rule is not applied in all cases. Lawyers usually invoke this legal doctrine in cases where there is negligence. If the negligence of the defendant aggravates a plaintiff’s existing condition, the rule is applied. In this case, the victim should be treated as he/she were unable to prevent what had occurred. In short, the law provides a safe haven for the victim’s susceptibility. The defendant is responsible regardless of the plaintiff’s health condition.

The eggshell rule can also be applied when an intentional tort occurs. An intentional tort occurs when a civil wrongdoing is declared an intentional act. Compared to negligent torts, damages for intentional torts are always broader in size. However, it is difficult to prove intentional torts, especially in felony crimes. Knowing what is on the defendant’s mind is a challenge because they do not reveal it in public.

Law Gavel and Book On A Wooden Desk

Additionally, the eggshell rule is also applicable in strict liability cases. An individual is held accountable for what happens from an activity even where there is no fault. Under strict liability, the following categories apply:

  • Product liability
  • Intrusion
  • Owning wild animals
  • Felony crimes

Personal Injury And The Eggshell Skull Rule

On matters of personal injury and accident, the eggshell skull rule states that the defendant cannot use the frailty of the injured person for defense. The negligent party is responsibility for injuries suffered by the injured individual regardless of any preexisting conditions. The accused party will likely be required to compensate the victim via monetary rewards and will likely be responsible for footing all resulting medical bills.

However, it is not the role of the defendant to offer a higher duty of care when the incident involves an eggshell victim.

On the other side, the application of the eggshell skull rule can be complicated by many things. More specifically, cases of comparative negligence. In cases of an intervening cause, the initial injury can cause further damage. The court can dismiss resulting injuries on the grounds that they were not foreseen. Blame can be removed from the defendant. However, the plaintiff can still seek compensation for damages.

Even though the final decision lies with the court, the compensation amount can (in some cases) be lowered. Such a situation can arise when a plaintiff puts himself in a position where he is likely to be harmed. For example, when the plaintiff suffers from excessive bleeding due to thickened blood as a result of alcohol, the compensation will be lowered by a certain percentage.

The Exception To This Rule

The eggshell skull rule will not apply in all cases. Let’s say an injury is caused by a completely unrelated situation. For example, an injured individual is involved in an accident while in an
ambulance.

Ambulance Driving Down Freeway Towards A Vehicle Accident

The original offender will not be liable for the new injuries. Similarly, when the injured is in the hands of negligent medical personnel, the hospital takes the blame for resulting consequences. The defendant only takes the liability for the initial injuries.

The eggshell skull rule should not be mistaken for the crumbling skull rule. The plaintiff might suffer from a detrimental position, pre-existent to the occurrence of the present tort. Under the crumbling skull rule, the prior condition can only be put into consideration if it can be distinguished from the new injury. This is to enable apportioning of damages. The individual who caused harm will take responsibility for placing the plaintiff in a better position. The position should be much better compared to what they were in before the current situation.
Beyond Physical Injuries

Application of eggshell skull rule beyond physical injuries has remained debatable. It is easier to compensate for cases where damages are physical. Such injuries can be treated but traumatic outcomes cannot be healed because they are invisible. Invisible wounds cannot be measured hence not liable for a specific amount of compensation. The ball of contention has always been whether accident victims should be compensated if the incident aggravates a pre-existing condition.

According to the rule, if a plaintiff’s condition was excellent and there was no chance of changing, then the defendant should provide compensation. In this case, the state of health is not put into consideration. The law is mostly applicable when dealing with the elderly and disabled individuals. This group is vulnerable to injury due to their existing conditions.

When it comes to psychological damages, the rule might apply partially. In cases where the plaintiff, is vulnerable due to a past traumatic event, the rule will apply.

Husband Comforting His Wife

An individual who undergoes heightened psychological reaction to a tortuous event, then he or she is open for compensation.

Final Thoughts

The eggshell skull doctrine makes a defendant liable for the plaintiff’s unforeseeable reactions to the defendant’s negligent act. For a plaintiff to be compensated as deserved, there is the need for the victim to have experienced lawyers. One needs to hire a lawyer who will represent his or her interests well. Such lawyers will also represent them accordingly when dealing with insurance companies.