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What Is the Eggshell Skull Rule?

October 10, 2023

Accidents are traumatic, with painful injuries and ongoing financial repercussions, but what if your injuries were especially devastating because a pre-existing condition made you more vulnerable to harm than a typical accident victim? Does having a pre-existing condition preclude an accident victim from recovering compensation for damages? Thanks to the legal doctrine known as the Eggshell Skull Rule, any individual with a chronic medical condition has legal recourse to recover their damages, even when their damages relate directly to a pre-existing condition.

The Eggshell Skull Rule gets its memorable name from an example commonly used in law schools to teach this concept. Imagine if an individual has a medical condition that leaves their skull as thin and breakable as an eggshell and they suffer injuries to their skull and brain in a relatively minor accident because of their delicate skull. Are they left holding the bag for their medical expenses? No, the Eggshell Skull rule specifies that the negligent party in an accident is responsible for ALL damages, including those the victim suffered due to a pre-existing medical condition.

What Is the Eggshell Skull Rule?

Negligence and The Eggshell Skull Rule

In states like Washington, comparative negligence insurance laws allow injury victims to seek damages from the party at fault in an accident, even when the damages go beyond the norm for the type of accident because of the victim’s pre-existing health condition.

The injury victim in a fault-based insurance state has the responsibility of proving the at-fault party negligent for damages. Proving negligence on the part of one person or entity in an accident means that party is liable for damages. Proving liability in a comparative negligence insurance state requires demonstrating the following through documented evidence:

  • That the at-fault party owed a duty of reasonable care to others to prevent injury
  • That they breached this duty through an act of negligence, recklessness, or wrongdoing
  • That the breach of their duty directly caused injury
  • The injury victim suffered significant damages due to the injury

The liable party is responsible for damages even when the damages suffered by a victim with a pre-existing condition would not have been as severe to a person without the condition in the same accident. Damages in accidents are typically paid out by the liable party’s insurance policy; for example, personal injury protection in a car accident or premises liability insurance in a slip-and-fall injury.

Applying the Eggshell Skull Rule in Personal Injury Claims

The Eggshell Skull Rule holds a liable party responsible for all consequences of their actions, even when a victim’s pre-existing medical condition exacerbates those consequences. A common example is an accident victim with a back condition such as degenerative disc disease. This condition may be present in the individual before an accident, but the force of a car accident could greatly exasperate what was previously a manageable condition into disabling pain and stiffness. A senior citizen with pre-existing osteoporosis could suffer multiple broken bones in a car accident that an individual with strong, healthy bones wouldn’t have suffered, but now the injured victim faces a long, slow recovery with significant impacts on their quality of life.

In both of the above examples, a Seattle car accident attorney would use evidence such as MRI imaging and medical histories of the accident victim’s medical condition before and after the accident to prove that the accident worsened the medical condition or caused injuries to a person whose pre-existing condition made them more vulnerable.

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