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What Is The Eggshell Plaintiff Doctrine?


As a general rule, a negligent defendant is liable for the injuries that are caused by the defendant’s negligence. Causation becomes a big issue in personal injury cases, and many defendants argue that although they were in fact careless, their carelessness did not cause the victim’s injuries.

What is a Defendant Responsible For?

But how much injury is a defendant responsible for? There may be people who seem to get “more injured” than anybody else. Or, people who, because of a disability or condition, are more susceptible or prone to an injury. Sometimes the injury suffered can even seem disproportionate with the accident.

Let’s take for example, someone who sustains a cut in an accident. Generally, minor lacerations are not considered very severe injuries in the eyes of the law. But what if the person who suffered the laceration is a hemophiliac, and suffers severe trauma when the “minor” laceration bleeds profusely without clotting?

Likewise, what if someone needs a minor surgery because of an accident? However, because the victim is diabetic, the minor surgery becomes a major surgery—perhaps one with serious complications?

Is a liable defendant responsible for all injuries—or only those that a reasonable person would suffer?

The Eggshell Plaintiff

The answer lies in what is known as the Eggshell Plaintiff doctrine. The doctrine says that a negligent defendant takes the victim as he or she finds the victim–even a victim that is as fragile or delicate as an eggshell.

In other words, a defendant may injure someone who is very sturdy, and who heals very quickly. Or, the victim may injure someone who has underlying conditions that make even a minor injury very serious.

Either way—the defendant is responsible for all injuries caused by the accident. The defendant cannot say that a “normal” person would only have sustained a lesser injury, or defend by saying that the victim is especially prone to injury, or that the victim is more susceptible to injury.

Pre-Existing Injury

The eggshell doctrine is often confused with pre-existing injuries, and they are somewhat related. For example, let’s assume that you had a lumbar fusion 10 years ago and now you are in a car accident. Whereas you may normally suffer a sprain or strain, your injuries are now much more serious, because your lower back was previously injured and operated on.

Your lower back was certainly compromised because of the pre-existing injury. However, that is not a defense—the defendant takes the victim as he finds them. The fact that you may have suffered a more serious result because of the prior lumbar fusion does not make the lumbar injury “pre-existing.”

In fact, Tennessee jury instructions specifically allow a jury to award someone damages, where a part of their body had injuries or disease that predated the accident.

 Call the Knoxville personal injury attorneys at Fox Willis Burnette, PLLC, for help no matter what your injury.



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