The eggshell skull rule, also known as the thin skull rule, can be translated as “you take your victims as you catch them.” This basically means that a person’s frailty cannot be used as a defense to avoid responsibility.
Even if the accidents are more severe than one would expect, the negligent party is nevertheless liable for all of the consequences. The eggshell skull law takes its name from a typical example of a case in which a complainant may be able to compensate even though their losses are worse than predicted. In this case, an imaginary person has an incredibly thin skull that is as frail as an eggshell, despite the fact that the person seems to be perfectly human. Someone else hits this guy in the head. A normal human would have been hurt, but the person with the eggshell skull would have died.
So, under the eggshell skull clause, the person who hits the eggshell skulled person is responsible not only for the minor injuries but also for the person’s death, even though it was unforeseeable. According to the eggshell skull clause, the person who struck the eggshell skulled person is responsible for the serious effects that the eggshell skulled person suffered, not just the amount of damage that a normal person may have suffered. The thin skull rule is another name for the eggshell skull rule.
A 14-year-old boy, Vosburg, was kicked in the shin by an 11-year-old boy George Putney, in school. Putney kicked so lightly that Vosburg didn’t immediately feel it. What Putney didn’t know was that Vosburg already had an injury in his leg and due to the kicking incident Vosburg developed a serious infection which left him with a weakness in his leg for the rest of his life.
Though the injury was unforeseeable still the defendant was held liable for all the injuries. This was the case of Vosburg v. Putney (1890). In this case, the concept of the eggshell skull rule was developed.
CRUMBLING SKULL RULE
Another well-established tort law doctrine, the crumbling skull concept, is often confused with the eggshell skull principle. In the seminal case of Athey v. Leonati, it is well established (1996). The defendant is responsible for the injuries sustained, even though they are serious, but the complainant is not entitled to compensation for any debilitating consequences of the pre-existing illness, which the plaintiff was still suffering from. The defendant is responsible for the new loss but not for the damage that has already occurred.
This simply assumes that if the plaintiff’s life was going to deteriorate eventually even without the injury, the defendant won’t be responsible for the full amount of harm so the tort law theory is to return the complainant to his original condition, not to put him in a new one.
DIFFERENCE BETWEEN EGGSHELL SKULL AND CRUMBLING SKULL RULE
The eggshell or thin skull rule was distinguished from the crumbling skull rule in the case of Shaw v. Clark. The difference between a thin skull case and a cracking case, according to the judge, is that in the (thin skull) case, the skull was in a stable state until the crash and would have remained so if it hadn’t been for the accident.
This means that in the case of the eggshell skull theory, the plaintiff’s condition was more fragile than a normal person, but it would have been the same if the accident hadn’t happened, while in the case of the crumbling skull theory, the plaintiff’s condition was still more fragile than a normal person, but it would have continued to deteriorate even if the accident hadn’t happened.
WHAT A LAWYER SHOULD DO TO APPLY THIS RULE SUCCESSFULLY?
- In the courtroom, the plaintiff’s counsel should report any pre-existing illnesses or disabilities.
- The attorney should highlight how the plaintiff’s health changed following the crash, and how the plaintiff would not have recovered from the worsened conditions if the accident had not occurred. To put it another way, the attorney would have to show that the complainant was not a crumbling skull plaintiff in order to win the case.
- The lawyer should describe how the plaintiff’s livelihood has been changed by the recent injuries. What challenges would the appellant have that he would not have had otherwise?
The eggshell skull principle or regulation is a law that is both just and equitable. However, as with many laws, this one needs to be tweaked. If the plaintiff’s pre-existing illness is not the result of the plaintiff’s own negligence, the eggshell skull rule should be enforced. For example, if a man named Zaheer is texting while driving and hits an elderly man named Smith, Smith dies from broken arms and legs as a result of the crash. If a safe person had been struck, the speed of the vehicle may not have caused any injury, but Smith was an elderly man whose bones had grown very frail due to his age, and he suffered fractures. Since the plaintiff’s pre-existing illness was not his own, the defendant must be held responsible for the whole amount of damages. The appellant, in this case, may have an eggshell skull.