Posted on Friday, October 27th, 2017 at 12:31 pm
It can be appreciated by most people that not everyone has the same ability to withstand an accident. Some people are more likely to be seriously injured than others even if the accident is exactly the same. If you know that your bones are more brittle than average, for example, you would most likely take precautions to avoid slipping over and falling down, in case the fall meant that you broke an arm or leg bone more easily than most. But what might happen if your accident was caused by someone else’s negligence? Could the person argue that they are not responsible for your injuries because of your naturally more fragile condition? This is where the so-called “eggshell skull” or “thin skull” law applies.
The eggshell skull law prevents a defendant in a personal injury lawsuit from using the plaintiff’s more fragile condition to limit liability if negligence has been proven. This means that even if the accident victim needs a much greater financial payment in compensation because their injuries are more serious than the average person who might have experienced the same accident, then the payment may be justified, although this will depend on the court’s decision.
Despite the law being called the “eggshell skull” law, it is not limited to head injuries and the existence of a thinner or more fragile than usual skull. No-one in real life has a skull that is paper thin or as fragile as an eggshell. It might also apply to the propensity to have a heart attack or develop a particularly serious bacterial infection when hit in some part of the body.
One way to interpret the eggshell skull rule is that the defendant is liable for the victim in the state that he or she was when injured.
Take an example. You are driving on a highway near San Antonio and are hit by another vehicle from the rear as you slow down close to an intersection. The other driver was too close to you and traveling too fast to prevent crashing into you. You are hospitalized as a result of the accident and are discovered to have serious brain injuries as a result of what seemed to be a relatively minor knock to the head. It is discovered that your skull is significantly lighter than average and that means that your injury was more serious than might normally have been expected. The evidence that the other driver was negligent is sufficient to sue him (or her) for damages. There are sufficient eye witnesses to back up your side of the story.
The defendant cannot use your fragile skull’s condition to avoid liability. The defendant must accept you in whatever physical state you were in at the time, or to put it another way the defendant must “take his victim as he finds him”.
Interestingly, the eggshell skull law only applies to physical condition and does not apply to one’s emotional state. It does not apply if another incident aggravates the original injury after the original one, for instance a further accident on the way to the hospital.
The eggshell skull law is not unique to Texas, but is common law valid in all other U.S. states and many other countries.
Vosburg vs Putney: a case study in the application of the eggshell skull law
This is an early example of the eggshell skull law being applied. A schoolboy kicked another boy in a classroom. The boy whose leg was kicked had a previously unknown microbial infection which was aggravated by the blow. The boy eventually lost his leg. Despite the fact that the boy who did the kicking wouldn’t have known about the other boy’s susceptibility this was not considered a sufficient defense to prevent legal action against him. The act of kicking was construed as negligence and therefore the boy was considered liable for his action whatever the physical state of the victim. This decision was made back in 1891 by the Wisconsin Supreme Court!
Although the principles of the eggshell skull law may seem plain enough as they apply to personal injury cases, the calculation of damages can be a complex and contentious subject. If you have been the victim of a negligent action, and have been seriously injured because of your existing condition you are strongly advised to contact an experienced personal injury attorney to work n your behalf. It is vital that you get the argument for damages right the first time, as you will not be able to change the amount of compensation requested a second time round.
If you have been injured in or around San Antonio, Texas, then contact the Patino Law Office in San Antonio on 210-646-9100 for a free consultation.