The Eggshell Plaintiff Doctrine Protects Plaintiffs Whose Pre-Existing Fragility Makes Them Particularly Susceptible to Injury

When it comes to every personal injury lawsuit, a defendant cannot be free from liability simply because a plaintiff is “fragile” or has another pre-existing condition that makes the plaintiff more likely to be injured.  A defendant takes the plaintiff as he or she is, so regardless of whether or not a plaintiff is more susceptible to certain injuries, a defendant may be held responsible if he or she proximately caused a plaintiff’s injuries.  It is important that any attorney representing an “eggshell” plaintiff must make clear to the jury that a defendant’s conduct exacerbated or made worse the plaintiff’s pre-existing fragility or condition.

What a Plaintiff Must Prove to the Jury

Plaintiffs must have full disclosure up front in any personal injury case.  A plaintiff must communicate to the jury that he or she has a pre-existing physical or mental condition that was made worse by a defendant’s conduct.  Just because a plaintiff with a pre-existing condition may become more injured than a plaintiff without such a pre-existing condition, it does not mean that an eggshell or fragile plaintiff should continue suffering, with no consequence to the defendant who acted with negligence.

Expert Testimony is Essential

Expert testimony is always a critical part of any personal injury lawsuit.  An expert must help the jury understand that but for a defendant’s actions, a plaintiff’s condition would not have been made worse.  The expert has to distinguish between how an ordinary plaintiff without a pre-existing condition would have been injured and the injuries suffered by an eggshell plaintiff.  It is also important that the expert can explain to the jury how and why a defendant’s actions added to a plaintiff’s pre-existing condition.  In other words, the expert will discuss how the plaintiff’s pre-existing condition would progress had the plaintiff not suffered additional injuries, and why additional harm has made the pre-existing condition worse.

The Importance of Jury Instructions

It is important that the jury understands its job is to determine if the defendant’s conduct aggravated the plaintiff’s pre-existing condition.  The jury must find for the plaintiff if it believes a defendant’s actions made the plaintiff worse off.  The plaintiff is not asking the jury to compensate him or her for the pre-existing condition but instead is asking the jury to compensate him or her for the new and/or aggravated injuries that he or she would not have suffered but for the defendant’s conduct.

The bottom line is that all plaintiffs, regardless of pre-existing conditions, should have an opportunity to hold a negligent party accountable.  A plaintiff does not voluntarily wish to have a medical condition that makes him or her susceptible to further injury.  The argument that a fragile plaintiff is someone who is more likely to be injured because of his or her physical or mental condition does not work as a bar to a defendant’s liability.

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