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The Eggshell Plaintiff Doctrine: Negligence Is Negligence, No Matter Who Gets Hurt

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If a motorist happens to collide with another vehicle driven by someone who is more susceptible to injury than the average person — someone who sustained a childhood injury, suffers from fibromyalgia, or has a rare genetic condition, for example — does that mean that the defendant is still fully liable for the physical and emotional damages he caused, even if he would have had to pay much less had he crashed into a more healthy (or less fragile) person?

According to the eggshell plaintiff doctrine, the answer is yes.

What Is the Eggshell Plaintiff Doctrine?

The eggshell plaintiff doctrine basically says that the defendant must take the victim as he finds him. Because the damages can be much higher if the defendant hurts an unusually fragile plaintiff, some may believe that he should not have to pay those extra costs. But according to the eggshell plaintiff doctrine, the victim of an automobile collision must be accepted in the condition they were at the time of the collision, meaning that the person responsible for the accident is fully liable for all injuries sustained by the victim, no matter how unforeseeable the injuries might be.

These damages frequently include:

  • Medical bills
  • Lost wages
  • Pain and suffering
  • Emotional distress
  • Punitive damages, if applicable

If the injured person dies, a wrongful death lawsuit may be filed against the defendant, even if the average person would likely have suffered only minor damage from a comparable injury. Since the defendant breached his duty of care, he is responsible for all the costs that come from the breach, as unexpected as they may be. The eggshell plaintiff doctrine is designed to encourage care and punish negligence, no matter who the victim is.

Pre-Existing Conditions

A true pre-existing injury is one that already happened and was not affected by a new occurrence. Simply because a plaintiff has a past injury that makes him more likely to suffer from an additional injury does not mean he is not entitled to compensation for the damages.

Pre-existing injuries generally do not weaken car accident injury claims when a victim suffers aggravation of a prior injury or makes a prior injury more serious, unless the plaintiff lies or fails to disclose the injury during the discovery process. In fact, if proper disclosure is made regarding the pre-existing injury, it may actually result in a higher settlement award if the damage inflicted is more severe because of weakness caused by a prior accident.

So defendants must take their victims as they come to them, and if an eggshell plaintiff sustains more serious injuries than a normal person would have, that’s the defendant’s problem. He will just have to deal with the greater damages exposure due to the bad luck of hurting someone who was more susceptible to injury in the first place.

Image by Quinn Dombrowski

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