The “Eggshell Skull” Rule in Personal Injury Law

If you or somebody you care about sustained an injury due to the negligent actions of another party, you should be able to recover compensation. However, aggressive insurance carriers and at-fault parties never want to pay out large settlements and injury claims. They will do what they can to lower the eventual settlement amount or even deny the claim altogether.

One way that insurance carriers or opposing lawyers do this is to claim that the victim had pre-existing conditions that made them more susceptible to injuries, and that the accident itself did not actually cause the injuries in question.

What is an Eggshell Plaintiff?

The term “eggshell plaintiff” describes injury victims who have pre-existing conditions, as well as the legal theory that protects such plaintiffs. The eggshell skull rule is a doctrine that makes a defendant liable for the plaintiff’s unforeseeable and uncommon reactions to the defendant’s negligence.

Examples and Applications

The following scenario is an example of how the eggshell skull rule can come into play:

  • Suppose Becky is involved in a minor vehicle accident caused by Samantha. Becky has been experiencing back pain for the last 10 years as the result of a previous accident and has been treated for her pain off and on by her doctor. Now, the car accident has led to excruciating back pain for Becky, above and beyond anything she has experienced over the previous ten years. Just because Becky had back pain before does not mean the pain was not exacerbated by the vehicle accident. However, Samantha’s insurance carrier or legal team could try to argue that Becky’s back pain was not caused by the vehicle accident, and that they are not responsible for treating any of the medical expenses because the pain was pre-existing.

In this scenario, Becky is an eggshell plaintiff. Under West Virginia law, the negligent party is responsible for any injuries they caused to the plaintiff, regardless of the plaintiff’s medical condition at the time of the accident. In the case described above, Samantha is liable for Becky’s medical expenses to the extent that Samantha made the back pain worse because of the car accident.

Even though Samantha could not have anticipated that Becky would be injured to the extent she was, a negligent actor is not absolved of their responsibility to compensate injury victims. However, Samantha is not liable for any damages directly associated with the original accident.

The Importance of Revealing Pre-Existing Injuries

It may be tempting for an injury victim to hide their previous medical conditions, particularly if they think it will limit the amount of money they can recover. However, it is crucial that a victim be upfront with their lawyer regarding previous injuries and medical conditions that existed before the accident. Any plaintiff who tries to hide or deny a previous condition in a personal injury lawsuit sets themselves up for failure.

Additionally, pre-existing conditions do offer an advantage in these situations because they give insurance carriers, juries, and judges a chance to examine past medical records and gain a concrete understanding of how the current incident has affected the plaintiff.

Get Help from an Injury Lawyer in Charleston, WV

If you or somebody you care about has been injured due to the actions of another individual in West Virginia, seek legal assistance as soon as possible. The attorneys at Tiano O’Dell, PLLC have extensive experience handling complex injury claims, and they can use their resources to fully investigate the case to determine liability. If you need a personal injury lawyer in Charleston, contact us today.