What Is the Eggshell Rule in Personal Injury Law?
You cannot judge a book by its cover, and you can only tell so much about a person just by looking at them. Someone who appears to be in perfect physical health may have an underlying, unseen condition that makes them especially susceptible to serious injuries. Unfortunately, the condition may not become apparent until that person is hurt in an accident.
Suppose that you or a loved one have an underlying condition such as brittle bone disease, which makes even minor impacts capable of causing bone fractures. A small incident can cause considerably more pain and higher medical expenses than expected.
Do you have any recourse if you or your loved one is severely injured by another person, even if that person did not know that their actions could cause severe harm?
The Issue of Foreseeability in Personal Injury Cases
It is a principle in personal injury cases that a person is generally responsible for the foreseeable consequences of their negligent actions.
For example, suppose that you are driving faster than the posted speed limit in a densely populated zone, and you crash into another driver. It is entirely foreseeable that someone would suffer injuries in such a situation, and so the law will hold you responsible for those injuries.
Alternatively, imagine that you cause a minor fender bender at a stop light. When the other driver gets out of their car, they are immediately struck by lightning. The lightning causes severe injuries and burns to the victim, who incurs significant expenses while recovering.
In this case, even though you negligently caused the crash, you could not have foreseen that the victim would be struck by lightning. As a result, it is unlikely that you will be held responsible for paying the other person’s medical expenses.
This creates a potential problem for those who suffer from medical conditions that make serious injuries more likely. A negligent driver can claim that it is not foreseeable that a minor fender bender would cause a fractured leg. Can the driver avoid having to pay compensation for those injuries?
The Eggshell Rule Explained
The answer is no, thanks to a legal doctrine known as the “eggshell rule.” This rule states that a person who injures another through negligent acts is responsible for those injuries, including injuries and losses that are aggravated or more serious than might be otherwise expected because of an underlying medical condition.
Consider another example: You are driving and get into a minor fender bender because another driver runs a red light. Although the impact is minimal, you suffer a broken clavicle because you have brittle bone disease.
The other driver is responsible for all of the injuries you sustain because of that car accident. It does not matter if they had any reason to know of your medical condition prior to the crash.
In other words, careless individuals who cause others injuries through their negligent acts must take their victims as they come, including any preexisting medical conditions they might have. A person who hurts you through careless acts cannot limit their liability by claiming they had no reason to know your injuries would be more serious than another victim’s injuries might have been.
You Still Have a Responsibility to Seek Medical Care
A negligent person who harms you is responsible for all of the harm they cause to you. However, this principle does not excuse you from taking reasonable steps to protect yourself after an accident. You should still:
Check to see if you sustained any injuries
Summon emergency medical help or get to a hospital emergency room if you are not sure how seriously you have been hurt
Advise medical staff and those treating you of any underlying conditions you might have
Follow any treatment recommendations you are given by medical staff, including taking prescriptions as directed and returning for follow-up care
Failing to take steps that a reasonable person would under the same circumstances could lead to a reduction in the amount of compensation you might otherwise be entitled to receive.
Contact West Law LLC for Assistance After a Personal Injury Accident