The Eggshell Skull Doctrine in Massachusetts Accident Cases

If you have had any experience with injuries from car accidents or other type of personal injury cases, you may have heard the term “Eggshell Skull” Doctrine or Rule. This is a well-established common law doctrine that is typically used in tort cases, such as car accidents, that says you take your victim as you find them. In other words, it means a defendant or at-fault driver will be responsible for injuries and damages they caused to another person even if the injuries result in an unusually high level of damages due to a pre-existing injury or condition or an accident victim’s vulnerability to injuries.

Insurance companies routinely attack personal injury claims by asserting that the injured person had a preexisting injury. They do this to try and pay the injured person less than the true value of  his or her injury claim. However, in most cases, this is not a valid defense.

The Eggshell Skull Rule

This deep-rooted legal notion is covered in law school tort classes and the example used to explain it discusses an accident victim who has a weaker skull than normal (like an egg). In the example, the thin skulled person is struck in the head due to another person’s negligence and dies. The same accident would have only caused a person with a normal skull to have suffered a bump or bruise on his or her head. The legal doctrine holds that the negligent person is still responsible for the damages (i.e., death) he caused even though the victim had an unusually thin skull.

This means that in cases where the injuries are much worse that one normally would have expected, the negligent person is still legally responsible for all of the consequences of his negligent conduct. The term “Eggshell Skull” does not limit injuries to only the head or brain. It actually includes any preexisting vulnerabilities a victim has. For example, if a person suffers from Brittle Bone Syndrome and is rear-ended in a car accident by another negligent driver and suffers a broken leg, the negligent driver is responsible for the damages caused by his negligent driving. This is true even if the same rear-end collision wouldn't have resulted in a broken leg to another person with no preexisting medical condition.

Preexisting Injuries or Medical Conditions in Massachusetts Cases

The Eggshell Skull Rule is used in Massachusetts cases where an accident victim has a preexisting injury or medical condition that is aggravated by an accident. The Massachusetts Court addressed the liability of a negligent person in the case Wallace v. Ludwig, 292 Mass. 251 (1935).

In that case the court held: “where an injury arising from a cause which entails liability on the defendant combines with a preexisting or a subsequently acquired disease to bring about greater harm to the plaintiff than would have resulted from the injury alone, the defendant may be liable for all the consequences. If the injury causes or contributes to cause the development of a preexisting disease, the person liable for the injury is liable also for the resulting aggravation. The wrongdoer may be held responsible for the harmful results of the combined effects of his or her wrongful act and the disease. . . . If the injury directly causes disease, even though it was not theretofore present in the system of the person injured, liability of the wrongdoer extends to all injurious results of such disease.”

Therefore, in Massachusetts a defendant will be held responsible for those damages that naturally flow from the combined effect of his or her wrongful conduct and any preexisting disease or condition of the plaintiff.

Insurance Companies Still Try to Use Preexisting Conditions as a Defense

Even though the Eggshell Skull rule is well-established and understood, insurance companies continue to use the dirty tactic that a plaintiff’s injuries were preexisting and not caused by the accident. They do this, so they can try to pay an injured person less than what they deserve for their injuries. We see this tactic used by insurance companies all the time. If you have been seriously injured in a car accident in Massachusetts and the insurance company is claiming that your injuries are not related to the accident and that they are preexisting, you should contact an experienced personal injury attorney.

Even if an aggravation of your preexisting injuries resulted in more expensive medical bills, you still have the right to seek full financial compensation for your damages. If the insurance company does not agree to compensate you for your damages, you have the right to file a personal injury lawsuit and take your case to court.

A skilled Massachusetts personal injury lawyer will help fight to get you the compensation you deserve. In cases involving an aggravation of a preexisting injury, there are jury instructions the judge should be asked to give to the jury. For example, the plaintiff’s lawyer can as the judge to instruct the jury as follows: “Where an injury arising from a cause which entails liability on the defendant combines with a preexisting or a subsequently acquired disease to bring about greater harm to the plaintiff than would have resulted from the injury alone, the defendant may be liable for all the consequences.”

As you can see, there are many aspects of an injury case that must be evaluated, especially with a plaintiff with a preexisting injury. Don’t let the insurance companies take advantage of you. If you were injured in an accident and aggravated a preexisting injury, you should speak with an injury lawyer right away.

Injured in an Accident? Consult an Experienced Car Accident Lawyer

Personal injury claims from car accidents in Massachusetts can often present complex legal and insurance issues. That is why, if you have been injured in a car accident, you should speak with an experienced personal injury attorney in Massachusetts.

The Framingham personal injury attorneys at Mahaney & Pappas, LLP specialize in helping people hurt in accidents get the financial compensation they deserve. If you have questions about an accident case, feel free to contact us online or call us at (508) 879-3500. We are happy to evaluate your accident, answer your questions and explain how we may help secure the financial compensation you deserve. 

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