“Egg-Shell Skull” Rule and Personal Injury Claims

It may be common sense that a person is responsible for consequences caused by their actions. One reflection of this common understanding in legal principles, referred to by lawyers as the “Egg-Shell Skull” Rule, may lead to financial burdens unexpected by people who can be deemed responsible for the events. To understand this Egg-Shell Skull Rule, it is first necessary to know the importance of “causation” in pining legal liabilities to a person.

In situations where a person’s behavior has caused someone else to suffer loss or harm, causation is a crucial element of liability because it connects an injury to a responsible party. This makes sense because if A hit B in the arm and B suffered a fracture, naturally A would be responsible for the injury. Yet if A threw a light kick at the shin of B, who, unknown to A, had a series condition that set of a chain of events that finally resulted in B unable to use his leg at all, A may find herself held responsible for this grievous injury.

The Egg-Shell Skull Rule literally means that if B had a skull as delicate as that of the shell of an egg, and A, unaware of this condition, injured B’s head, causing the skull unexpectedly to break, A would be held liable for all damages.

The Third Circuit Court of Appeal in Louisiana recently illustrated this rule in Augustine v. State Farm Mutual Automobile Insurance Company, et al. In this case, the seventy-four year-old Mrs. Augustine was driving at about ten miles per hour in her 1995 Mercury Grand Marquis. Her vehicle was struck from the rear by a Mini Cooper driven by Ms. Coston. Although the accident caused no physical damage to either vehicle, Mrs. Augustine was awarded damages at $50,000 at trial.

The amount of damages awarded for this low-speed, possibly also minor, accident was the direct corollary of the application of the Egg-shell Skull Rule. Prior to the accident, Mrs. Augustine testified that she had arthritic pain three times a week or everyday if there was a flare-up of symptoms. After the accident, however, she said that she experienced pain on a more frequent basis and on a more severe scale.

Having heard conflicting expert testimonies on Mrs. Augustine’s medical conditions, the trial jury believed that she did suffer an aggravation of her pre-existing conditions and awarded her damages for both past and future pain and suffering. The Court of Appeals, operating under the high legal hurdle that it will not reverse trial court’s fact finding unless clearly erroneous, affirmed the $50,000 judgment.

Unaware of this rule, one in Mrs. Augustine’s circumstances may not seek maximum damages to her injury while someone in a similar position as Ms. Coston’s position may be dumbfounded to find herself in unexpected financial burden. The most important fact, though, is that your legal representation clearly understand the injury suffered and make claims open to all suffering reached.

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