Imagine that you’re driving through the Bronx, en route to meet friends at a newly opened cocktail lounge. When you stop at a red light, a distracted driver rear-ends you. Your seat belt prevented you from hitting your head on the windshield, but your injuries are still serious. This is because you have osteogenesis imperfecta, or brittle bone disease, which leaves your skeleton fragile. An accident that might have left your friends with minor aches and pains has broken several of your bones and left you in serious pain.
Is the driver who hit you liable for all of your damages, even though you have a unique condition that causes you to be hurt more easily? According to the eggshell skull rule, the answer is yes.
The eggshell skull rule explained
Also known as the thin skull rule, this legal doctrine states that an at-fault party must take their victim as they find them. Although the name suggests that it only applies to head injuries related to a frail skull, it actually covers any pre-existing medical conditions you may have.
For example, if you have hemophilia and require extensive treatment after an otherwise minor injury, then the person who hurt you can be sued for your medical bills, lost wages, and other losses. The fact that you have a disease that weakens you does not limit their liability in any way. They may not necessarily owe you a higher duty of care, but when something happens, your condition may not be used as an excuse for evading responsibility.
The basis of the eggshell skull rule is that an injured person deserves to be compensated for any harm done to them by the defendant, regardless of any invisible medical conditions that left them in a worse condition than a normal person would be under the same circumstances.
Exceptions to the eggshell skull rule
There are two situations that can make the eggshell skull rule more complicated. One is comparative negligence. If you knowingly contribute to the severity of your injuries, then the amount of compensation due can be reduced by your percentage of comparative negligence. For example, if you have hemophilia and participate in activities that could foreseeably cause a cut (e.g., fencing), then a jury may conclude that you are 20% responsible for your own injury, and award you $40,000 when you might otherwise have gotten $50,000.
The other situation is intervening causes. When something unrelated happens after the initial act of negligence and that something causes another injury or aggravates the existing one, a judge will probably find that these damages were unforeseeable and the original at-fault party is not responsible for them. For example, if you step out of your car after a collision and slip and fall because the municipality failed to lay salt on the roads during a reasonable time frame, then you likely cannot sue the at-fault driver if you hurt yourself in the fall.
If you or someone you love suffers an injury under the eggshell skull rule, then contact a New York personal injury attorney who can look into your case, determine if the rule applies, and fight to get you maximum value for your injuries. Jayson Lutzky is a Bronx attorney handling personal injury and car accident cases. If you have any legal questions, then contact his office at 718-329-9500 to schedule a free in-person consultation or visit www.MyNewYorkCityLawyer.com for further details.