UPDATED March 15, 2024

Assume a person (let’s call her Mary) was involved in some sort of incident (let’s say a car wreck) caused by someone else. If Mary sustained injuries caused by that car wreck, she may have a bodily injury claim. Mary cannot, however, recover money damages for injuries that are solely due to any pre-existing illness or injury. This just makes sense, but there are a few different scenarios that lead to different outcomes.

Let’s now say that Mary was experiencing symptoms of a preexisting condition at the time of the car wreck. If her injuries sustained in the car wreck aggravated or made Mary’s pre-existing injury more severe, then Mary may recover for any damages sustained due to any aggravation or worsening of her pre-existing condition.

Another scenario is that Mary had a preexisting condition, but it was not causing her any problems or symptoms. If the preexisting condition combined with the injuries sustained in the wreck caused her harm, then Mary would be entitled to recover for the full extent of her harm.

Yet another scenario is that Mary had a predisposition or weakness that was not causing her any symptoms or problems before the wreck but made her more susceptible to the kind of injury she sustained in the wreck. If her car wreck injuries combined with that predisposition to create her medical condition, then she is entitled to recover for all of the damage sustained due to that condition. It does not matter if she may have suffered less from the wreck if she did not have such a predisposition.

This last scenario is based on the “Eggshell Skull” doctrine. This doctrine is derived from illustrations appearing in old English Cases in which a plaintiff with an “eggshell skull” suffers death as a result of a defendant’s negligence where a normal person would only suffer a bump on the head. For example, if Mary had hemophilia and was involved in a minor car wreck that may not have caused any harm to some people, but caused a medical emergency for Mary, the person who caused the wreck is liable. Often times, the insurance industry would love to deny claims to everyone who is not young and in a pristine state of health. Fortunately, the law protects those folks and we’ll keep trying to help them.

By: Michael Raff, Esq.