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How Is A Car Accident Case Affected By The Eggshell Skull Rule?

| Jon Montagna |

Worried that a pre-existing condition might bar you from receiving compensation after a car accident? While pre-existing conditions can make getting compensation a bit more difficult, being more susceptible to injuries does not mean insurance will bar you from recovering compensation.

The eggshell skull rule can help ensure that you are eligible to collect damages after a car crash and that your pre-existing medical conditions do not bar you from compensation. If you have never heard of this rule, continue reading to see how it might benefit you and how the personal injury attorneys at Montagna Klein Camden can help your claim.

Does Virginia Follow the Eggshell Skull Rule?

The answer is yes; Virginia does follow the eggshell skull doctrine. However, taking advantage of this legal doctrine may require help from a qualified personal injury law firm.

The Meaning of the Eggshell Skull Rule

The eggshell skull rule, or thin skull rule, is a common-law doctrine that says that a tortfeasor cannot complain if the accident victims’ physical injuries are more serious than they otherwise would have been because the victim has a pre-existing vulnerability like a thin skull. A tortfeasor is the at-fault party in an accident, literally the person who committed the tort.

The Wisconsin Supreme Court first established this rule in 1891. Since then has been adopted by many states, including Virginia. The origins of the eggshell skull rule come from an intentional tort where an assailant attacked someone without knowing their condition. That person had a medical predisposition leading to a severely damaged skull. The courts ruled that all injuries suffered from the intentional tort must be paid for, regardless of whether the assailant was aware of the pre-existing condition.

The same doctrine applies in car accident cases. It is commonly expressed as “take the victim as you find them.” This means that when an accident victim suffers a more severe injury due to a pre-existing vulnerability, the at-fault driver is responsible, even if an average person would not have suffered the same injury without the presence of such a condition.

Even with the eggshell skull doctrine in place, however, the insurance companies responsible for the injuries in personal injury cases may still deny coverage to the injured person. Because of this, you must have a qualified Virginia personal injury lawyer in your corner.

The attorneys at Montagna Law are experienced in personal injury claims where the eggshell skull rule applies. If you have suffered serious injuries in a car accident that was not your fault, contact us today at 757-622-8100 or fill out our online form for a free consultation about your case.

What Are the Factors in Determining if the Eggshell Skull Rule Can Be Applied in a Case?

Woman sitting down having her eyes examined by a doctor

In Virginia, your medical records will be essential in a personal injury case to prove that you suffered a more severe injury than a normal person in a car accident because of your pre-existing injury. These medical records and testimony from health care experts will establish your pre-existing injury.

Jury instructions in a trial are also important. As the plaintiff, you and your personal injury lawyer must request that the judge issue the eggshell skull rule to instruct the jury at the beginning of the proceedings.

A major factor is that you cannot sue for the aggravation of an existing injury. The eggshell plaintiff must prove that their existing condition and resulting frailty make them more susceptible to new injury than the average person. The injury in question must be a result of causation, not aggravation.

If, for example, a car accident re-aggravates an existing neck injury, you cannot use the thin skull rule. On the other hand, if you have brittle bone syndrome that causes you to experience multiple fractures that a normal person might not experience, the eggshell skull rule can apply.

Does the Eggshell Skull Rule Apply to Emotional Injuries?

The eggshell skull rule absolutely applies to emotional injuries. Plaintiffs are entitled to pain and suffering as well as other non-economic damages for the harm they endure due to an accident. An accident victim can suffer physical pain and emotional trauma from injuries.

Some victims may be more predisposed to emotional trauma than average people. These victims may suffer from pre-existing mental health conditions that make them vulnerable to additional conditions. If, for example, a person is diagnosed with depression or anxiety, they may be more predisposed to develop severe post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD, due to a car accident.

The Eggshell Skull Rule Differs From the Crumbling Skull Rule

The crumbling skull rule is different from the eggshell skull rule and, in many ways, is counter to it. This rule states that the defendant is not responsible for restoring the victim to a better state than they experienced before the accident. They only have a legal obligation to restore the plaintiff to the state they held before the accident.

This means they are responsible for the medical bills needed to repair damage from the accident but not for medical bills required to repair the pre-existing condition from before the accident. For this reason, insurance companies often try to blur the lines in these cases. They might claim that you are seeking so much in damages that you are looking for a windfall to place you in a better situation.
The best way to fight back against these accusations is with the help of an experienced attorney. The right attorney can help you gather the necessary evidence to show that your injuries are the result of the accident and that the money and damages you seek are only to restore your pre-accident function, not to try to improve your situation beyond where you originally began.

What Are the Complications of the Rule in Virginia?

The eggshell skull rule establishes that the at-fault person is responsible for the plaintiff’s injuries regardless of how unpredictable those injuries might be. They must accept the existing conditions of the plaintiff as they are. Among the biggest issues, however, is drawing the line for damages.

Pre-existing conditions can muddle and blur how much the defendant is responsible for paying. How much, for example, will restore the plaintiff to their pre-accident condition?

The insurance company and attorneys for the defendant will almost always try to argue that the injuries are aggravations of the condition rather than new injuries. Essentially, while the plaintiff argues that the eggshell doctrine makes them more eligible for compensation, the insurance company argues that the pre-existing vulnerability makes them less eligible.

Emotional damages carry the same issue in an eggshell skull case and can be even trickier. The defendant will be ordered to pay based on the plaintiff’s individual condition, but insurance companies will often try to use existing mental conditions to argue for aggravation instead of new conditions. Having the right lawyer in your corner can go a long way toward fighting for compensation to cover the full physical and mental injuries you suffer in an accident.

The eggshell skull rule does not impose a higher duty of care upon a plaintiff. You must still prove negligence under the standard rules in any personal injury case; that is, that the defendent acted in an irresponsible manner contrary to how a reasonable person would act in a similar situation, that their actions led to the accident, and that your injuries are a result of the accident. The only thing the eggshell doctrine offers is additional help regarding the causation of your injury.

Why Hire an Attorney for Your Virginia Car Accident?

Attorney shaking hands with clients at his desk

Eggshell skull cases can get extremely complex. Building the right case to prove that your injury was caused by a vulnerability you already had rather than an aggravation of that vulnerability can be difficult. If you can do so, it can improve your case, but at the same time, the other side will try to argue the exact opposite.

Hiring a personal injury attorney is vital to fighting for maximum compensation in your injury case. When people try to represent themselves, they tend to earn less and lose their cases more frequently. Many studies prove that those with legal counsel can earn more than three times that of those who handle their own claim.

The reasons for this are simple and twofold. First, claimants generally do not have the knowledge they need to prove negligence and validate their injuries. Second, the defendant will have insurance companies and attorneys on their side who do have this knowledge.

Attorneys can also help you avoid critical mistakes. Insurance companies will try to trick, cajole, and even bully you into signing off on insufficient offers. If you sign such papers, you could lose your right to compensation. Your lawyer will help you file all the required paperwork and meet important deadlines like the statute of limitations. They can communicate with the insurance company on your behalf and allow you to focus on getting well again.

At Montagna Law, we know how to fight back against bullying insurance companies and make the law work for you. We will work hard to build a case and fight for your rights every step of the way. We will bring decades of experience to the table and be a compassionate ally in your fight for justice.

Do Not Feel Fragile. Work with Us to Build a Strong Case.

You should not be barred from compensation just because you have a pre-existing condition. You deserve to be paid for the harm you suffered by a reckless or careless driver. If you were in a car accident and need help seeking compensation, the experienced car accident lawyers at Montagna Klein Camden are ready to help. Reach out to us at 757-622-8100 or fill out our easy online contact form to schedule a free consultation regarding your case today.

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