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Are You An Eggshell Plaintiff?

by | May 22, 2015 | Firm News |

Not everyone is alike. Indeed, that is what makes society so interesting. Los Angeles is comprised of artists, athletes, professionals, skilled workers, and educators. Personalities vary. Some are outgoing and eccentric, others are introverted. People from all different types of backgrounds, and ethnicity,  make up the community that we live in.

Similarly, not all injured parties are the same. Regardless, under the law, a defendant is liable for all injuries caused, even if the plaintiff is more susceptible to injury than the average person. You “take the victim as you find him or her.” So, if a plaintiff is hypersensitive or predisposed to injury, the defendant may be out of luck.

This doctrine is referred to as the “Eggshell Plaintiff” Rule. The foundations of the principle lie in common law. The Eggshell name originates in the following hypothetical (which has been changed slightly):

Danny Defendant is speeding and drinking a glass of wine while he drives down Ventura Boulevard. Pennny Plaintiff is stopped at a red light 20 feet in front of Danny Defendant. As Danny Defendant approaches, he doesn’t have enough time to apply the brakes. Penny Plaintiff screams as she sees Danny Defendant’s car quickly advancing. Sure enough, Danny Defendant’s car rear ends Penny Plaintiff’s vehicle. Unfortunately for both Danny Defendant and Penny Plaintiff, Penny Plaintiff has an eggshell skull. The slightest pressure on her skull can cause it to fracture. When Penny Plaintiff’s vehicle was violently struck from behind, her head hit the steering wheel, which resulted in a severe skull fracture. All of the doctors consulted after the accident said that no other person would have suffered a skull fracture; it is only because Penny Plaintiff had an eggshell skull. Nevertheless, Danny Defendant will have to pay for all damages related to the fracture, which is the full extent of Penny Plaintiff’s injuries.

California has a jury instruction available should a Eggshell Plaintiff case go to trial. California Civil Jury Instruction (CACI) 3927 provides:

“Plaintiff is not entitled to damages for any physical or emotional condition that he or she had before Defendant’s conduct occurred. However, if Plaintiff had a physical or emotional condition that was made worse by Defendant’s conduct, you must award damages that will reasonably and fairly compensate him or her for the effect on that condition.”

A lot of cases that have been filed in a court of law will involve discovery. During discovery, it is common for defense attorneys to ask about “preexisting conditions” or prior accidents. A defendant will not be liable for injuries that existed before the accident. But, the defendant will be liable if the prior injuries of plaintiff are aggravated by the negligent conduct of defendant. Thus, it is important to determine whether a plaintiff has suffered an aggravation or if the injury was not related to the negligence of the particular incident.

In a nutshell, all eggshell readers need not worry. Should you be involved in an accident, the defendant or at-fault party will be responsible for all injuries incurred, even it is quite unusual.