The Eggshell Plaintiff

What is an Eggshell Plaintiff?

For those of you reading this, the famous Humpty Dumpty rhyme may come to mind: “Humpty Dumpty sat on a wall, Humpty Dumpty had a great fall; all the king's horses and all the king's men, couldn't put Humpty together again.”

What if the five-foot fall that left Humpty Dumpty in pieces had been caused by the King’s defective wall and not his own lack of coordination? If Humpty Dumpty sued the King for negligently maintaining the wall, would he have a claim for shattering to pieces when everyone knows eggshells are fragile and break more easily than, let’s say, a 350 pound gorilla? Clearly a gorilla would not have been injured by falling only a few feet, so why should the King have to pay for the poor egg’s devastating injuries? Read on to find out, friends.

Perhaps we’re asking you to stretch your imagination today with the hypothetical, above, but in personal injury cases there are times when an injured plaintiff had a pre-existing condition that exacerbated (worsened) the injury caused by an accident. In these cases, the injured plaintiff will be considered an “Eggshell Plaintiff” because the plaintiff’s injuries are more severe than they normally would have been if it wasn’t for the pre-existing condition. Thus, the “Eggshell Plaintiff” rule stands for the proposition that a tort defendant takes the victim as he finds him. This means that if you have a hypersensitivity or predisposition to injury due to a preexisting condition that causes you to become more fragile than the average person (you are like an eggshell and break or fracture easily), the person who injured you is liable for all your damages resulting from his negligence.  

To give you a real world example, lets say a 70 year old lady who has pre-existing arthritis in her neck and back is stopped at a stop light and is suddenly rear-ended by a careless, negligent driver who bumps into her at 5 miles per hour and causes minor damage to her vehicle, barely putting a dent in her bumper. Many would think the average person would not be severely injured from such an impact.   However, in this example, the 70 year old accident victim falls within the “Eggshell Plaintiff” rule.  She had existing arthritis in her neck and back that made her prone to injury and she may experience severe neck and back pain from the 5 mile per hour impact, requiring several months of physical therapy, or even surgery, in order to fully recover. Thus, the 70 year old Eggshell Plaintiff is entitled to fully recover all of her medical bills as well as full compensation for her pain and suffering just as if she had been rear ended by a driver that was going 80 miles per hour.

A landmark case applying the Eggshell Plaintiff rule is Vosburg v. Putney, 80 Wis. 523, 50 N.W. 403 (1891).  In Vosburg, A school boy kicked another boy in the shin.  The kick would not have seriously injured a normal person, but the victim had an infection in his tibia.  The kick aggravated the infection, causing serious injury. Thus, the wrongdoer was held responsible for all injuries resulting from the wrongful act, even though the full extent of the damages could not have been foreseen by him.

Jury Instructions

Eggshell Plaintiffs are entitled to specific jury instructions addressing their pre-existing condition. For example, in Gasiorowski v. Hose, 182 Ariz. 376, 382, 897 P.2d 678, 684 (Ct. App. 1994), the Court held that it was error of the trial court to deny the following jury instruction:

Plaintiff is entitled to recover all damages resulting from the negligence, fault of the defendant, even if the plaintiff was more susceptible than a normally healthy person would have been, and even if a normally healthy person would not have suffered similar injury.

Basic Arizona jury instructions involving a plaintiff with pre-existing conditions (Unusually Susceptible Plaintiff) generally include:

[Name of plaintiff] is not entitled to compensation for any physical or emotional condition that pre-existed the fault of [name of defendant]. However, if [name of plaintiff] had any pre-existing physical or emotional condition that was aggravated or made worse by [name of defendant]’s fault, you must decide the full amount of money that will reasonably and fairly compensate [name of plaintiff] for that aggravation or worsening. 

You must decide the full amount of money that will reasonably and fairly compensate [name of plaintiff] for all damages caused by the fault of [name of defendant], even if [name of plaintiff] was more susceptible to injury than a normally healthy person would have been, and even if a normally healthy person would not have suffered similar injury. 

A Lawyer’s Role in Representing a Plaintiff with Pre-existing Conditions

Accident victims who fit the description of an Eggshell Plaintiff need aggressive representation by a dedicated personal injury lawyer and should not expect their matter to be resolved in the same manner or time frame as a typical car accident case. An injured party’s preexisting condition does not relieve a negligent person who caused an accident of liability, so if you suffer from a medical defect or condition and were subsequently injured in an accident that exacerbated/worsened those problems, contact Quintana Law for a FREE consultation at (602) 418-0733. We can help.