Understanding the Eggshell Skull Rule

Published on January 4, 2021, by Matthew Sharp

Personal Injury

Understanding the Eggshell Skull Rule

The “eggshell skull rule” helps ensure that plaintiffs can recover compensation for damages caused by another party’s negligence even if the injuries might not have been as severe but for the plaintiff’s preexisting medical condition or vulnerability to injury.

What Is the Eggshell Skull Rule?

Under the eggshell skull rule, a defendant remains liable for injuries caused by negligence or an intentional act regardless of the plaintiff’s increased susceptibility to injury. The rule effectively protects plaintiffs who have pre-existing conditions that increase the risk or severity of injuries in the event of an accident.

The rule applies to any intentional tort or negligence case.

How the Eggshell Rule Started

The concept of the eggshell skull rule was introduced in the 1890s following a case known as Andrew Vosburg v. George Putney, which took place in Waukesha, Wisconsin. The case involved a 12-year-old student named George Putney who injured a 14-year-old student, Andrew Vosburg, during an argument. The students sat next to each other across an aisle in a classroom. George instigated the incident when he kicked Andrew in the shin.

While the kick was light enough that it wouldn’t have caused an injury to the average child, Andrew was afflicted with an infection of the tibia. The kick worsened this condition and ultimately resulted in permanent injury to his leg.

Following this incident, the Supreme Court of Wisconsin found George liable for the injury even though he was unaware of Andrew’s condition.

Since this case, victims whose conditions make them more vulnerable to a serious injury can recover full compensation if a plaintiff is deemed liable for those injuries.

How Does the Eggshell Skull Rule Work?

One example of a case involving the eggshell skull rule could entail a car accident resulting from distracted driving. For instance, Martin is driving a vehicle while talking on the phone and rear-ends another vehicle momentarily stopped at a stop sign.

While Martin may have been slowing down to the point where he didn’t cause serious damage to the vehicle and the average driver wouldn’t have sustained serious injuries, this case would be different. The driver of the stopped vehicle has a condition called osteogenesis imperfecta, commonly known as brittle bone syndrome. This condition leads to multiple fractures during the accident.

Instead of a personal injury claim, the injured driver decides to file a personal injury lawsuit against Martin, seeking total compensation in the amount of $300,000 for all of the injuries and other damages sustained. Martin and his attorney argue that most people wouldn’t have endured the same fractures as the plaintiff, claiming that her condition was the true cause of her injuries. However, the eggshell skull rule still leads the court to hold Martin liable for the damages and requires him to pay the full compensable amount.

How the Eggshell Skull Rule Works in Nevada

In Nevada, like most states in the U.S., the eggshell skull rule applies to both civil and criminal cases. While the rule applies in Nevada, it’s important to understand some of the laws and details of specific states.

Plaintiffs in Nevada are protected by the eggshell skull rule if they have pre-existing injuries. They will need to prove these conditions with sufficient evidence, which personal injury attorneys can help gather in the form of detailed medical documents.

Nevada is a comparative negligence state, which means that if the plaintiff is partially at fault for an accident, it could reduce the plaintiff’s compensation. If a plaintiff is found to be over 50% at fault for an accident and injuries, he or she may be unable to recover any compensation, so it’s important to prove that the defendant’s fault in a case.

How Does the Rule Apply to Emotional Injuries?

In cases involving auto accidents and other incidents, plaintiffs can seek compensation for both physical and psychological injuries. This includes emotional injuries such as distress, anxiety, humiliation, depression, grief, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), along with the decreased quality of life and loss of consortium. However, the eggshell skull rule doesn’t currently apply to psychological injuries, although plaintiffs can still seek compensation if an accident resulted in these injuries.

If plaintiffs can prove that another party’s negligence and resulting injuries caused emotional injuries in addition to physical injuries, it may be possible to recover compensation for these non-economic damages. Evidence needed to prove emotional injuries could include medical records, witness testimony, injury journals, notes from therapists and other mental health professionals, and the testimony of friends and family.