The “Eggshell Plaintiff” Rule in San Francisco Injury Lawsuits

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Our San Francisco personal injury lawyer knows that every case is unique. Our team treats every client as an individual, listening to the facts of each claim and helping guide each client to a positive result. While some laws and legal principles require applying the same rule to every case, other legal concepts recognize the individuality of every plaintiff. One such concept is the “eggshell plaintiff” rule.

The important principle behind this rule is the recognition that the same incident can effect different people in different way. In civil courts, the physical state of the plaintiff at the time of the accident is not relevant and the defendant is responsible for the injuries sustained by the victim, even if the particular plaintiff’s health status meant he or she suffered a more serious injury that an average person would incur in a similar occurrence. The “eggshell plaintiff” theory imagines a person who has a very thin (or “eggshell”) skull. Suppose this person is involved in a car accident. While the crash might only leave an average person with only minor bump on the head, the same collision might leave this plaintiff with a significant skull fracture or other major injury. Despite the fact that the degree of injury is unusual, if the defendant is legally responsible for the accident then the defendant is liable for the result. Under the “eggshell plaintiff” rule, the defendant must still compensate the victim for the full extent of the injury. To put the rule in other words, the defendant “takes the plaintiff as he finds him,” including any unique susceptibility to injury such as a congenital condition or prior injury. This does not mean the defendant is responsible for inevitable injuries that would have happened even without the accident if the collision only had a minimal impact on the outcome.

California law recognizes the eggshell plaintiff concept and includes it in the state’s civil jury instructions. CACI 3927 provides:

[Name of plaintiff] is not entitled to damages for any physical or emotional condition that [he/she] had before [name of defendant]’s conduct occurred. However, if [name of plaintiff] had a physical or emotional condition that was made worse by [name of defendant]’s wrongful conduct, you must award damages that will reasonably and fairly compensate [him/her] for the effect on that condition.

This instruction is based on numerous court decisions and judges are strongly encouraged to use the language to help a jury understand California law and carry out the task of deciding liability and determining damages. The existence of the principle also informs settlement negotiations.

California law includes many legal principles that protect injured people. Our job as your San Francisco injury law firm is to understand these concepts and apply them to your unique case. Without legal counsel, injured people may settle a case for far less than they deserve. Our team will work to ensure you get all the money you are owed so that you can focus on your physical recovery rather than worry about medical bills, lost income, or other financial concerns.

See Related Blog Posts:
Understanding Auto Insurance Coverage in California
Lack of Money Should Not Deter You from Pursuing an Injury Claim