Pre-existing Injuries and/or Disease: The Eggshell Plaintiff Rule

Many times over the years, I have had prospective clients tell me that pursuing a personal injury claim just “wouldn’t be worth it” because they have a pre-existing condition causing pain and dysfunction in the same general area of their body as the new injury. They erroneously assume that prior injuries or underlying disease trumps their capacity to recover or maximize damages for their current loss.

A Maxim Designed to Protect the Vulnerable

One of the principles governing personal injury law is the “eggshell plaintiff rule”, a doctrine that says a defendant must take his victim as he finds him. This means that a defendant is responsible for all damages caused by his negligence even though the plaintiff’s injuries may be more serious due to pre-existing conditions or general frailty of health. Consistent with our legal system’s notion of justice, the eggshell rule upholds the elegant ideology that it is not permissible when determining damages to distinguish between the strong and the weak, the healthy and the sick.

Encouraging Care and Punishing Negligence

The eggshell rule also recognizes that plaintiffs with pre-existing conditions are more vulnerable to injury and functional loss than others. As such, the defendant will likely face the prospect of greater damages—higher medical and rehabilitative treatment costs, for example—than might have been the case with another plaintiff. As you might imagine, the eggshell rule has been challenged over the years as being unfairly skewed in favor of ailing plaintiffs. These arguments boil down to: “Why should the defendant be on the hook to pay these extra costs, especially when the plaintiff was sick before?” The courts, however, have countered that the defendant breached his duty; and as such, is responsible for all costs that stem from his negligence, even if they couldn’t have been foreseen.

Let’s consider a case similar to many that I have represented before: A defendant is texting and driving. Being distracted, he rear-ends the car in front of him. The defendant quickly assesses the damage as not “all that serious” given that neither car has sustained much damage. The plaintiff, however, has a long history of spinal problems. The seemingly minor impact causes him severe neck and back pain as well as functional loss. He has to undergo extensive medical and rehabilitative treatment for the resulting injuries. Had the plaintiff not had the pre-existing condition, the defendant might not have been responsible for the expensive medical treatment. The eggshell plaintiff rule dictates that the defendant must take the plaintiff as he finds him. The intent of the rule is to protect the vulnerable while punishing negligence.

Don’t Let a Pre-Existing Injury or Condition Deter You from Pursuing a Claim for Current Loss

It is very important when consulting with a personal injury lawyer that you disclose your full medical history, including any prior or current injuries and/or disease as well as all past and present medical and surgical treatments. Do not omit any details based on the belief that a prior injury or disease would not be relevant to your current loss or—worse—that the defendant’s insurance company would never find out. The latter is a common but serious misconception. The more information that we have about your health and physical condition—past as well as present—the better prepared we will be to aggressively represent your case and get the compensation to which you are entitled.

If you or a loved one has a pre-existing injury or disease, do not be deterred from seeking compensation for a current injury. We excel at representing cases and getting maximum recovery for clients with pre-existing conditions. Give one of our top trial lawyers a call today: 855-40-CRASH (toll free)

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