The “eggshell skull rule” sounds frightening, but it’s actually a fairly straightforward legal doctrine that helps make certain personal injury plaintiffs recover ALL the damages that stem from their accident.
Let’s take a closer look.
What is the eggshell skull rule?
The “eggshell skull rule” holds that the defendant’s liability won’t be reduced just because the plaintiff is more susceptible to injury than the average plaintiff.
The legal doctrine is most easily understood by looking at the 1891 case that established the doctrine:
Andrew Vosburg v. George Putney
In a schoolroom in Waukesha, Wisconsin, 12-year-old George Putney got into an argument with 14-year-old Andrew Vosburg. The 2 were sitting opposite each other across an aisle when George reached across the aisle with his foot and kicked Andrew lightly in the shin.
The kick likely wouldn’t have injured a healthy child, but Andrew was not healthy. Andrew had a tibia infection and the kick aggravated the infection, resulting in a serious injury that prohibited him from ever recovering full use of the limb.
The Supreme Court of Wisconsin held that George was liable for the extensive damages caused by his intentional tort even though George didn’t know about Andrew’s weakened condition.
When does the eggshell skull rule apply?
The eggshell skull rule applies to all negligence and intentional tort cases.
Let’s consider 2 more examples that are more likely to be similar to your situation:
Jane is driving east on Cypress Avenue in Redding, California. She’s texting while driving and doesn’t see the station wagon stopped at the stoplight in front of her until it’s too late. Jane slams on her brakes, but she rear-ends the station wagon.
Though Jane was only traveling 2 miles per hour when she collided with the station wagon, the woman driving the station wagon, Linda, suffers from osteogenesis imperfecta (“brittle bone syndrome”) and suffered multiple fractures as a result of the low-impact collision.
Linda files a personal injury lawsuit against Jane demanding $100,000.
At trial, Jane argues that most people wouldn’t have been injured in the crash and that the brittle bone syndrome is responsible for Linda’s injuries.
The court holds that, under the eggshell skull rule, Jane is liable for the full $100,000.
John returns home to his apartment complex after being on vacation for a week. It’s the middle of winter and a snowstorm has created a thick sheet of ice on the apartment complex steps. Despite several complaints by others in the apartment complex, the landlord has failed to treat or remove the ice from the steps.
As John is walking up the steps, he slips and falls on his side. John, who has hemophilia, begins to bleed excessively. He is rushed to the hospital and misses 2 weeks of work as a result of the injury.
John sues his landlord for $100,000.
John’s landlord argues that an otherwise healthy person would have suffered minor scrapes from the fall and he should only be responsible for paying the damages associated with minor scrapes.
The court holds that, under the eggshell skull rule, the landlord is responsible for all of John’s medical bills and lost wages.
Are there any situations when the eggshell skull rule doesn’t apply?
The eggshell skull rule applies to physical injuries in every state. However, only some states allow the plaintiff to apply the eggshell skull rule to mental conditions.
For example, if a plaintiff suffered from PTSD as a result of a car accident, and a subsequent car accident aggravated the PTSD (whereas the subsequent car crash alone wouldn’t have caused PTSD), only some states would allow the plaintiff to recover damages for the aggravation of their PTSD.
The crumbling skull rule
The eggshell skull rule shouldn’t be confused with the crumbling skull rule.
The “crumbling skull rule” holds that, while a defendant is responsible for the damages needed to restore the plaintiff to the position they were in before the accident, the defendant isn’t responsible for putting the plaintiff in a BETTER position.
In other words, the defendant is liable for the injuries caused, even if they are extreme due to the person’s pre-existing condition, but NOT for any debilitating effects of the pre-existing condition that the plaintiff would have experienced anyway.
Let’s look at an example to clarify these 2 rules:
Susan accumulates $200,000 in medical bills to repair the fractures. What’s more, Susan wants to undergo an experimental surgery that would reduce the overall impact of brittle bone syndrome. The surgery would cost $100,000.
Susan sues the restaurant under premises liability laws for $300,000.
Under the eggshell skull rule, the grocery store would be responsible for the $200,000, but not the $100,000 associated with the experimental surgery. To put it another way, the grocery store is not responsible for putting Susan in a better position than the one she was in prior to the accident.
So when a property manager puts a new tenant that she knows has a disabling lung disease in a unit that has a lot of toxic mold in it… with multiple empty promises of “remediating” the mold-
Eggshell skull rule?
I was stuck in that 247/every day with ACOS lung disease amid a highly contagious deadly respiratory pandemic. I’ve been out of there for a few months now. The lung infection I have is hanging on.. I spend more than two hours a day on a breathing machine. I have to take several different meds, under doctors orders. Its costly. I’ve been borrowing money and i just can’t keep doing this.
I need legal advice. This is humiliating and it’s depressing. On top of always struggling to breathe.
Will things ever get better or is this it for me?
Thanks for your time.
I live in an apartment complex and i have many serious health problems and the first unit i moved into i noticed black ghost markings on my walls especially behind pictures and anything on the walls. Then i looked closer to the vents ( we have natural gas heat and the furnace and water heater are in A closet per unit on our patio) – this is A BRAND NEW Complex – i moved in oct 2018 and by November i was weaker, sleeping nonstop, couldn’t think correctly, getting sick and once i made it outdoors- after 10 min fresh air, i was ok. I told the manager and owners along with pictures and they said from burning candles! Lmao. I lived in 1100sq foot unit and burned 1 small candle
Finally they moved me April 2019 and everything i owed was covered in soot. I know it was soot because everything i touched my hands were black. The walls in the entire unit and draws and all Tupperware had ghosting all over it and inside the silverware container that was plastic – ghosting
They said i can move (they made me stay from November to April knowing i have serious health problems) then 6 months later in this apartment with NO CANDLES OR ANYTHING- it was back (in the closets, in the silverware container, Tupperware, my sons walls, doors, inside closets, shower, my bathroom, closet and they said “candles” and i had A professional come in and they said soot!
Also to top it off – while Living in new unit, the former property manager new my medical situations and told residents above me what to do to cause me to have seizures and they were constantly banging on floors and stomping like 900lb person and lights on ceiling shaking and coming apart of ceiling
I had 3 different times went unconscious/seizures and last one i was unconscious and unresponsive due to the stress i was under and i have PTSD so i lost all my short term and long term memory loss and they never filed complaints or reports until new leasing agent “Heard” it from outside the stomping and demanded it stop. She saved my life and forced owners to move her out ( manager moved her to another building and now she is doing the same to another family)
I have MS, Seizures, PTSD, environmental allergies and indoor allergies, cold intolerance, spinal stenosis and anxiety. I moved into a brand new apartment complex oct 2018. Within a month of living there i started to decline in health. My MS was completely stable and no seizures in years. When i started cleaning i noticed black around everything on the walls and in closets, on my Tupperware it was like ghosting, and that’s when everything got worse
I was rushed to the hospital bc i was unable to breathe and i was so weak with constantly coughing and i got some type of infection in my lungs so now i need the nebulizer machine at home for when I’m unable to breathe.
My son and i have asthma but something wasn’t right bc i went from running 6 miles A day after i started chemo and i was active to in bed, sleeping, weak, coughing, raspy voice, shortly after with Barrett’s of the esophagus granted I had esophagitis prior but did not expect those results. Also diagnosed with scope. Once i finally got the owners to let me move to another unit which took tim April 2019. So at this point I’m extremely ill, and then in new apartment and former property manager and girl above me put me thru hell. Property manager told her my medical conditions and she would stomp so loud and do it constantly triggering my seizures and i then started having memory loss, brain fog, blacking out, collapsing, being unconscious for hours at the hospital and no clue until they diagnosed me with syncope and then memory loss continued to get worse and now it’s 2021 and I’ve been confused about everything and i originally thought that black was soot from the gas furnace until recently when my sons room had black marks on walls and paint was bubbling and our shower were constantly dirty with this black coating, my health is so bad and i now can’t sleep without the air purifier next to me otherwise i wake up choking in the middle of the night and sometimes i would experience it few times a night. My friend said black mold and had HVAC guy come look at my apartment and the furnace and water heater tank.. water on hose with mold in it and disconnected from the AC vent with water everywhere and my electric bill is thru the roof. But i need the ac but none of that should be like that and I’ve been complaining since the day i moved here and HVAC guy said mold and you have been exposed this long is not good for your health and added new conditions bc of what my son and i are breathing in no stop and once outside we are fine
I complained- owners didn’t do anything
So i went to the town and had building inspector, code officer, fire department “Cheif and captain and somehow over looked that.
Come to find out, there are tons of units that have mold and mildew and nothing but painting over it is what they do.. 3 residents passing away in 3 yews but 2 in 2 days is odd. Now i find out i have to have a hysterectomy bc of cancer on cervix- my medical file on what i have now compared to before i moved in.. so i have a case against landlord?
I was attacked I a brain injury
I fell in a hole beside where I normally park. I try hard to not step in the grass because of animal poop. The night in question, I didn’t leave a big space between me and the grass. So, my right foot was on the concrete and my left foot stepped in the grass and there was a hole in the grass. I feel aggravated bunch of injuries and also have two new injuries. It’s unfortunate that I can’t get a law firm to help me. I’m assuming that since I didn’t break a bone or tear something something, they don’t want to take my case. What can I do to rectify this situation? Oh yeah, the property is now sending me frivolous paperwork from an attorney and it is not true. Thank you for any help that you can give me.
Melissa Gold says
Hi, LaRhonda. I am sorry that happened! My first question is whether this is private property or public (I am assuming private because you mentioned receiving some documents from an attorney). Second, what type of documents are you receiving from their attorney? Third, you mentioned that the incident aggravated some previous injuries and caused two new ones. Did you receive medical treatment for these injuries? The only way you can make an injury claim is if the injury cost you money. So, for example, if you turned your ankle but the only treatment was to ice it at home, then you likely wouldn’t have a claim. If you broke a bone and required medical care, then you would be more likely to have a case. My suggestion is that you contact a lawyer who can advise based on the specifics of this incident. You mentioned that you’re having a hard time finding a law firm to help; you can try the Enjuris law firm directory: https://www.enjuris.com/directory/lawyers/tennessee/. I hope there’s someone there near you who is able to provide the guidance you need to recover costs and move forward. Best wishes and feel better!