What Is the Eggshell Skull Rule?

No two accident victims are exactly alike. Some have pre-existing medical conditions, previously healed injuries and ongoing health problems. In the eyes of the law, a victim should not be adversely affected because of something that makes him or her different – even if that thing makes the victim more susceptible to injury than the average person. A legal doctrine known as the Eggshell Skull Rule protects victims with pre-existing conditions from being barred from monetary recoveries because of their conditions.

The Meaning of the Eggshell Skull Rule

During a personal injury case, you may encounter defenses such as an insurance company attempting to blame the extent of your injuries on a pre-existing condition. According to a doctrine known as the Eggshell Skull Rule, however, a condition or medical history will not bar you from financial recovery. The Eggshell Skull Rule states that a defendant in a personal injury case will be responsible for the damage caused as-is, even if the victim had a pre-existing condition that made him or her predisposed to serious injury.

The Eggshell Skull Rule earned its name from a common example used to teach this doctrine in law school, of a theoretical man with a medical condition that makes his skull as thin and delicate as an eggshell. If this man got into an accident, his skull and brain would sustain a more severe injury than most due to his medical condition. The Eggshell Skull Doctrine states that the person who caused the accident will be financially responsible (liable) for the actual damages caused in spite of the fact that the average plaintiff would not have suffered the same injury severity as the man with the eggshell-thin skull.

How Is the Eggshell Skull Rule Applied to Personal Injury Claims?

In a personal injury claim, the Eggshell Skull Rule can apply to protect a plaintiff from being discriminated against and offered less financial compensation than he or she deserves because of a pre-existing medical condition or injury that the plaintiff had at the time of the accident. It holds a defendant liable for the full consequences of his or her negligent actions – even if these consequences were exacerbated by the victim’s pre-existing condition and were not reasonably foreseeable.

It is important to note that the Eggshell Skull Doctrine will not make a victim eligible for financial compensation for an injury or illness that he or she had prior to the accident in question. Although the doctrine will protect the plaintiff’s ability to recover compensation for the amount by which the accident exacerbated a pre-existing injury or condition – or vice versa – it does not make the victim eligible to recover compensation for a completely unrelated pre-existing injury. You may need to establish this distinction using your medical records during a claim.

Can the Eggshell Skull Rule Be Applied to Physical and Emotional Damages?

No; the Eggshell Skull Rule can be applied to physical damages, but not emotional damages (pain and suffering). The law states that this doctrine does not apply to emotional injuries or claims for pain and suffering. If a victim had previously been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder from an unrelated event, for example, the victim will not be able to hold the defendant responsible for additional noneconomic damages connected to the previous mental health disorder. This does not mean, however, that the victim will not be eligible for some compensation for noneconomic losses caused by the accident.

Some version of the Eggshell Skull Rule exists in all 50 states. However, exactly how the courts apply this rule can vary from state to state, as well as according to the specifics of a case. This is why it is important to consult with a personal injury lawyer in New Jersey for more information about your exact situation before you accept a settlement. An insurance company may be trying to take advantage of you by unfairly offering you less or rejecting your claim based on a pre-existing condition when you are legally protected by the Eggshell Skull Rule.