Legally reviewed by:
Setareh Law
December 8, 2023

The state of California recognizes that many injury victims may have pre-existing conditions that can be made worse in an accident. The eggshell skull doctrine, also known as the eggshell plaintiff rule, protects such victims by preventing the negligent party from using the victim’s pre-existing condition to escape liability.

Figuring out liability following an injury claim in California can be difficult, but you don’t have to go through it alone. Our Spanish-speaking and skilled lawyers at Setareh Law are here to help you through every step of the legal process and make sure your rights are protected.

How the Eggshell Skull Doctrine Affects Personal Injury Claims

The eggshell skull doctrine in personal injury claims requires the defendant to include all the victim’s pre-existing injuries and health conditions. Even if the victim had a condition that put them at an unusually high risk of getting injured, their ability to receive compensation should not be reduced.

Generally, an accident victim is not entitled to compensation for pre-existing conditions. However, they can recover compensation for the full extent of their injuries in the following situations:

  • Activation of a previously dormant condition
  • Re-activation of a condition that was previously under control
  • Aggravating a pre-existing physical or mental condition
  • Hastening a disability or death

The defendant can not escape liability because the average person would not have suffered the same injuries.  For example, if a victim had a prior medical condition that required surgery in three years but the accident aggravated their condition to now require immediate surgery, the jury should compensate the three years of damages.

Pre-existing conditions can affect the extent to which damages are recoverable. It’s best to speak to an experienced personal injury lawyer to get advice on your case to make sure you get the compensation you are owed following an accident.

Difficulty in Applying the Eggshell Skull Doctrine

Comparative negligence and intervening cause can make applying this doctrine a hurdle, as your lawyer and the court have to consider the following:

Comparative Negligence

If the plaintiff also contributed to their injuries, they are partially liable for their damages. In such cases, the plaintiff cannot recover the full compensation awarded in their claim. Instead, they can only receive compensation less their percentage of fault.

Intervening Cause

This event occurs after the initial negligence act, thus breaking the chain of causation. For example, if an eyewitness in a car accident attempts to help the victim by lifting them only to unknowingly exacerbate the victim’s injuries, the intervening event may cause new injuries or aggravate existing ones. It becomes challenging to identify which damages, and a judge or jury may find the injuries to have been unforeseeable.

When an intervening event breaks the direct link between the defendant’s actions and the plaintiff’s damages, the court may relieve the defendant of any liability for damages only if evidence proves an intervening cause.

What to Do if You Are an Eggshell Skull Plaintiff

If you have pre-existing injuries made worse due to another party’s negligent actions, you should consult with an experienced personal injury lawyer as soon as possible. These cases can be complicated, and how your lawyer handles the case will have a direct impact on the outcome of the case. A qualified lawyer should:

  • Quickly disclose all pre-existing injuries in their entirety
  • Use medical records to compare the extent of necessary care, degree of pain, or disability before and after the accident
  • Hire a medical expert to compare past medical records with current ones. The medical expert will also prepare an objective report on whether and how the accident worsened pre-existing injuries or conditions
  • Argue that the accident worsened pre-existing injuries, which made you more susceptible to new injuries

The eggshell skull doctrine is essential in low-impact accidents where the jury may doubt whether the accident could cause the severe injuries you suffered.

Contact an Experienced California Personal Injury Lawyer

You should file a personal injury claim if you or your loved one were in an accident that aggravated previous injuries. The skilled and compassionate attorneys at Setareh Law will evaluate your case and advise you on any next steps.

We have years of experience serving our clients throughout California and will do everything we can to fight for a just and reasonable outcome.  Call us at (310) 659-1826 or fill out our contact form online to schedule a free consultation.