Aug 9, 2021
Personal injury law affords victims who have been harmed by someone else’s negligence (whether an individual or company) an opportunity to recover financial compensation for various types of losses. When you hear the term ‘personal injury law,’ it can encompass any number of legal subsets, such as:
When injuries occur as a result of another’s negligence (or in some cases malice), the at-fault party is responsible for the damages caused. If you’re texting while driving and cause a rear-end collision leading to a traumatic brain injury (TBI), you’re liable for the ensuing damages. If a doctor performing spinal surgery ends up paralyzing the patient, he or she is liable for the ensuing damages. And if your dog bites a child while walking in a park, you are liable for the ensuing damages.
All of this seems pretty straightforward. But what happens when a victim is more vulnerable than the average person? What if, as a result of a victim’s vulnerable state or pre-existing conditions, that individual suffers aggravated injuries?
Below we’ll examine what’s known as the ‘Eggshell Plaintiff” rule, and discuss what it means for general personal injury claims (with a special focus on sexual assault lawsuits where survivors of past trauma experience aggravated injuries).
Under the law, an at-fault party (whether due to negligence or recklessness) takes a plaintiff as they are found. This notion, frequently cited as the eggshell plaintiff rule, is highlighted in a commonly cited case – Rideau v. Los Angeles Transit Lines (1954):
The tort-feasor takes the injured plaintiff as she is found. If, by reason of some pre-existing condition, the victim is more susceptible to injury, the tort-feasor is not thereby exonerated from liability.
In other words, the at-fault party is liable for any injuries caused by their actions, regardless of how unlikely or unforeseeable the plaintiff’s reaction to those actions may be.
So, if you’re involved in a minor fender bender with another vehicle, but that victim has osteoporosis (weak bones) and ends up requiring substantial medical care, as the at-fault party you’re responsible for the resulting damages (regardless of whether or not a “healthier” driver would have sustained lesser injuries as a result of such a minor car accident).
The eggshell plaintiff rule can impact both plaintiffs (known as claimants in personal injury law claims) and defendants. As a result, a defendant may find himself responsible for substantially more damages than he may have initially realized when the accident/incident occurred. Conversely, the plaintiff – one who is much more vulnerable or has a pre-existing condition – may not realize that they have a valid claim for compensation. In fact, injured victims who may qualify as eggshell plaintiffs often mistakenly believe that they do not have valid claims – viewing a particular condition as an automatic disqualifier.
For example, if a child who happens to be a hemophiliac (excessive bleeding) sustains a minor dog bite injury, that child’s family may be under the mistaken impression that because of the pre-existing condition they aren’t eligible to file a civil lawsuit seeking financial compensation. But that’s not the case, and one’s susceptibility to injury or harm doesn’t invalidate a claim. If a non-hemophiliac child is eligible to file a lawsuit against the dog owner, so is the hemophiliac child.
The eggshell plaintiff rule is generally divided into two types of plaintiffs:
Let’s review those two different categories and then take a look at how the eggshell plaintiff rule impacts sexual assault cases specifically.
The most commonly cited analogy used by legal professionals entails a plaintiff with an “eggshell-thin” skull. This example plaintiff is so susceptible to injury that even the slightest bump on the head – whether due to a car accident, slip and fall, or other personal injury-type claim – can cause massive damage.
Accordingly, if the eggshell-thin skull example plaintiff is injured by the negligence or recklessness of another person or entity, the at-fault party would be liable for any and all resulting injuries.
Furthermore, although the at-fault party must accept the eggshell-thin skull plaintiff as he is, that defendant does not have to demonstrate a greater duty of care to the vulnerable individual. As a result, the at-fault party only has to violate a standard duty of care in order to be found liable for financial damages. Furthermore, a personal injury law plaintiff does not need to have a natural condition which causes aggravated injuries (but they may have pre-existing conditions that are aggravated by the injury).
The example of the eggshell-thin skull plaintiff involves an individual suffering from a physical difference that makes them more susceptible to injury. But, under personal injury or tort law, the matter of a plaintiff with a pre-existing condition must also be considered.
Although it is generally understood that an at-fault party will only be liable for injuries or damages caused by their negligent behavior, it is also recognized that a defendant will be responsible for any damages resulting from the aggravation of a preexisting injury or condition. For example, if you’re injured in an automobile accident after recently suffering a broken hip from a slip and fall, the at-fault party would be responsible for any injuries resulting directly from the accident, but would also be responsible for any injuries that the plaintiff suffers as a result of having a preexisting condition (in this case a broken hip).
Dordulian Law Group (DLG) is the trusted and premier California sexual assault firm representing survivors in all types of claims. Led by former sex crimes prosecutor and Deputy District Attorney for Los Angeles County, Sam Dordulian, DLG provides a unique type of multi-tiered, all-encompassing legal representation that also includes access to a 24/7 support network offering added resources. DLG is well-known for recovering multi-million dollar settlements under difficult circumstances. A couple of recent examples include:
In both instances, DLG was able to secure multi-million dollar damages awards despite facing significant legal hurdles. We also had great success in a recent sexual assault case that involved the eggshell plaintiff rule (the exact details of which will be released shortly).
In that case, a survivor of past traumatic sexual abuse was able to recover a substantial financial damages award after an employer put his arm around the plaintiff and asked her why she didn’t “smile more.”
While the act of touching someone without their consent is a violation under the law, putting one’s arm around another person is not something that would – on its own – likely never rise to a level where it would warrant a substantial financial damages award. However, if that plaintiff had a history of traumatic sexual abuse (as our client did), then under the eggshell plaintiff rule’s element of taking that person “as they are,” when the act of putting one’s arm around someone causes extreme emotional distress, the at-fault party is liable for the resulting damages.
What this means is that, even if only minimal touching is involved, an at-fault party may be exposing themselves to liability for considerable financial damages depending on whether or not the plaintiff falls under the eggshell classification. While minimal touching may not have any impact on one individual, when it impacts an eggshell plaintiff, the at-fault party can be held liable for any resulting damages.
Ultimately, what’s important under the law is not the minimal physical contact, but the effect that contact has on the eggshell plaintiff.
For plaintiffs – survivors of sexual assault – this can have multiple implications:
What happens when a survivor of sexual assault is severely impacted by a seemingly minor act? With DLG, survivors have a dedicated and proven advocate who will fight to recover the maximum financial compensation they deserve. Regardless of the intent or the nature of the actual offense, the reaction a survivor has to an offender’s action is what ultimately matters under the law.
While some may contend that this signifies that we live in an overly-litigious society, the rules apply across the board for all personal injury claims. Whether you’re injured in a car accident or by sexual assault, the eggshell plaintiff rule is in effect and the at-fault party should be held liable for the resulting damages.
DLG’s founder and president, Sam Dordulian, further clarifies this point, noting the bias often placed against sexual assault survivors.
“Whether you’re harmed by a dog bite or sexual assault, the resulting injury is what will determine any ultimate financial compensation. I think people often view with suspicion survivors of sexual assault who may be pushed over the edge by what an outside observer views as minimal or harmless physical contact. But if that contact conjures up deep-seated emotional trauma, the at-fault party should be held liable. If a dog bite causes someone with pre-existing mental illness to suffer a major breakdown, we as a society would never think it’s unacceptable to award that victim due compensation. But when it’s a sexual assault survivor, suddenly people view the claim with cynicism,” Dordulian says.
As DLG’s Sam Dordulian notes, the resulting injury is what will determine whether or not you have a valid claim. As was the case with our client, a minimal amount of physical contact caused severe emotional trauma resulting in a substantial financial damages award. If the action didn’t cause such a significant reaction, there wouldn’t have been a valid claim. For survivors of sexual assault, this means that you should evaluate the result of the action (rather than the action itself) when determining whether or not to file a civil lawsuit.
By contacting DLG’s experienced and dedicated Sex Crimes Division attorneys for a free consultation, we’ll be able to review the facts of your case and help you determine what legal options are available. DLG’s elite Sex Crimes Division features a four-tiered team of professionals who are available to survivors 24/7:
DLG’s Sexual Assault Justice Experts (SAJE Team):
After recovering over $100,000,000 in settlements and verdicts for injured clients and sustaining a 98% success record in the process, DLG has established itself as a renowned firm of talented attorneys offering an unparalleled level or personalized attention and dedication to each and every case we take on. If you’ve been injured in a sexual assault incident, we’re here to listen to you, to believe you, and to help fight to obtain justice for you and recover the maximum financial compensation you deserve.
Contact us today online or by phone at 818-322-4056 to discuss your claim with a member of our SAJE Team. When you’re ready to pursue justice, we’re here to fight as your dedicated advocate. And with our No Win/No Fee Guarantee, you never have to worry about upfront costs or out-of-pocket expenses. With DLG, you pay nothing until we recover maximum financial compensation on your behalf.
Whatever your sexual assault entails, we have the experience, talent, proven results, and dedication to ensure justice is served and your claim reaches the successful outcome you deserve. Contact us today to learn more.
Our law firm in Glendale, CA advocates for victims of sexual assault, injury, employment disputes, and personal injury concerns.