Previous Injury and the Eggshell Plaintiff Rule

Accidents happen and when they do people wonder just how much can be considered when calculating damages. Many wonder “what happens when someone who is already injured is in an accident?” What’s more, if someone already had a bad knee, for example, can the defendant be held responsible for further damage to that knee. The Eggshell Plaintiff Rule helps explain the aggravation of existing injuries.

In a 2000 case, the Louisiana Supreme Court set out the Eggshell Plaintiff Rule but still reversed the Court of Appeal’ finding of damages because the trial court’s decision of no aggravation of injuries did not meet the high manifest error standard.

In April 1996 Mary Touchard drove a friend to Carnecro to pay her electric bill. While leaving the parking lot of the power company, Touchard’s car was hit from behind by a pickup truck driven by Ted Breaux. Ms. Touchard did not have the ambulance called and complained of a headache at the scene while Breaux claimed he was not entirely at fault for the accident and that vehicular impact was minimal. Ms. Touchard sued Breaux and his insurance company, however, claiming she suffered mental and physical injuries in the accident.

Ms. Touchard was a bit of a unique plaintiff in that she had an extensive history of both car accidents and physical and mental impairment, the timeline of which is as follows:

1961-automobile accident causing fractured cervical vertebra
1965-automobile accident causing concussion, whiplash, chest wall contusions, and a severe traumatic lumbosacaral strain
1972-accident causing concussion, cervical and lumbar strain and requiring surgery
Continued complaints of pain through 1970s, second surgery in 1979
1980s-continued severe pain–causing irritability and moodiness
1987-admitted to clinic for drug and alcohol abuse due to pain medication
1987-fourth accident
1993-started counseling at Cypress hospital after attempting to take her own life. Treated for anxiety disorder, post traumatic anxiety, and depression resulting from chronic pain.

Under the Eggshell Plaintiff Rule, defendants take plaintiffs how they find them and are responsible for all natural and probable consequences of their tortious conduct. If a defendant’s negligent action aggravates a pre-existing injury or condition, he must compensate the victim to the extent of the aggravation. This means that if Mr. Breaux’s conduct in driving the car that struck Ms. Touchard’s car was found to have aggravated her pre-existing mental and physical injuries, despite how bad they may have been, he must compensate her for the aggravation.

The trial court in this case heard testimony from Ms. Touchard’s doctors and several of her friends. The testimony was consistent in stating that she had emotional problems before and after the accident. Her psychiatrist was questioned as to whether she exhibited any objective signs of exacerbation after the accident and he replied that his findings (that she had) were only based on subjective information provided to him by Ms. Touchard. He also pointed to several factors that occurred after the accident that could have contributed to her depression. While Ms. Touchard’s friends testified that she changed after the accident, their description of her behavior was consistent with that of prior to the accident. As such, the trial court found she did not suffer new injuries or an aggravation of existing injuries as a result of Mr. Breaux’s conduct.

According to the Louisiana Supreme Court, these findings were supported by the record and were not clearly wrong. Therefore, because reviewing courts may only change decisions that are clearly wrong or show manifest error and may not substitute their judgment for the judgment of a trial court, they erred in reversing the trial court’s findings that Ms. Touchard’s injuries were not exacerbated in her accident with Mr. Breaux. As such, the Louisiana Supreme Court reversed the Court of Appeals and reinstated the trial court’s finding of no liability.

In cases involving pre-existing injuries, it is important for an individual who has been harmed to hire an attorney that can conclusively help them receive the judgment they deserve. By utilizing expert testimony and navigating the perilous and tricky nature of litigation, the proper attorney will successfully get for his or her client the judgment they deserve. With extensive experience in this field, the Berniard Law Firm is willing to discuss over the phone or in person the legal rights of a potential client and help them receive the compensation they deserve for suffering as they did from the mishap.