SCOPE AND LIMITATION TO THE EGGSHELL RULE
The eggshell rule is generally applicable to all cases of physical injury. In the event of an existing vulnerability, the eggshell rule covers physical injuries caused where the act or omission of the defendant unearths a condition or frailty that has laid latent in the victim. It also covers injuries caused and damages suffered where a previously treated condition resurfaces as a result of the defendant’s action. Similarly, the eggshell rule is applicable in cases of known conditions that have never been treated or where an inevitable consequence of the condition is facilitated by the occurrence of the act.
For this doctrine to avail a victim, the court must however first determine whether the defendant is liable for a breach in the first instance. Where the defendant is not found liable for a breach, the extent of damage becomes immaterial. For the successful application of this rule therefore, a defendant must have been found liable as the doctrine only comes to play in the determination of the extent of the liability of a defendant that had been found liable of a breach.
In recent developments, some jurisdictions have extended the scope of application of the doctrine to include mental and economic injury. One of the cases worthy of note is the case of Bonner v United States where the defendant was held liable for the mental illness suffered by the victim as a result of the car crash the defendant was responsible for, despite the victim’s previous psychological imbalances.
In the case of Colonial Inn Motor Lodge, Inc. v. Cincinnati Insurance Co. the doctrine was further extended to property as the defendant had backed into a hotel building that was in bad shape and the building exploded. The court held that although it was an unforeseen consequence of his actions, his liability still extends to the explosion of the building, seeing that he is liable for the act of hitting the building.
The aforementioned case seems to provide that taking your victim as they are extends beyond persons and includes property. This now begs the question “whether this Can then be an overstretch in light of the fact that the rule ought to cover the frailties of the victim and the owner rather than the property in such an instance ought to be regarded as the victim”?
A riposte to the above buttresses the limitation of the application of the Eggshell rule which is the principle of Novus Actus Interveniens (intervening act), which provides that a defendant cannot be held fully liable where an injury is aggravated as a result of a separate action unconnected to the defendant’s act. It should be noted that this is a limitation and not a complete defence. What that means is that it is not an excuse to completely escape liability when it can be proven that the defendant’s actions did in fact, cause some form of damage. It merely limits the extent of the liability and excludes additional damages caused by subsequent independent acts that broke the chain of causation.
An instance, is where a woman with high blood pressure is almost hit and suffers shock and while being rushed to the hospital in an ambulance is subsequently involved in an accident, the driver of the car would only be held liable for the shock and not the subsequent injuries caused by the action.
For this exception to however avail a defendant, they must show that the subsequent act was unconnected to their act and the resultant damage from the culmination of both acts is largely caused by the second act and the subsequent act is not merely an inconsequential occurrence.