Mesa AZ | Extenuating circumstances and pre-existing conditions in a car accident

Q: I was in a car accident a few weeks ago. I was driving, and my 72-year-old father was in the passenger seat.  We were on the freeway, and there was a bad traffic jam in front of us. As I slowed the car down, we were rear-ended by the guy behind us, which pushed us into the car in front of us. The impact did not deploy our airbags, so it couldn’t have been very bad. Nonetheless, my father broke his right arm. Upon impact, he extended his arms and put his hands on the dashboard to brace himself. The pressure must have caused the break. My father has osteoporosis, so his bones are very weak. His doctor said the break probably wouldn’t have occurred if my father did not have osteoporosis. My father is now preparing to sue the driver of the car that rear-ended us to cover his medical costs. I’m worried that because his osteoporosis played a role in his injury he will lose his case. What do you think?

A: Without knowing everything about your father’s case, I cannot give you a good estimate of his likelihood of success. However, given what you have told me above, you should know about a legal doctrine often referred to as the Eggshell Plaintiff Rule.

The eggshell plaintiff rule basically says that a defendant can still be liable for injuries to a plaintiff who is unusually susceptible to such injuries because of a pre-existing physical condition (an ‘eggshell’ plaintiff).  If the rule is applied in your father’s case, the judge is going to read the jury instructions regarding the rule before they decide the case. The instructions will probably go something like this:

You must decide the full amount of money that will reasonably and fairly compensate the plaintiff for all damages caused by the fault of the defendant, even if the plaintiff was more susceptible to injury than a normally healthy person would have been, and even if a normally healthy person would not have suffered similar injury. (Source: Arizona Revised Jury Instructions – Civil)

You can see how your father should fit into this instruction. His osteoporosis makes him more susceptible to this type of injury (broken bones) than a normally healthy person, and it can probably be proved that a normally healthy person would not have broken his arm in this situation. However, as long as your father can prove that the other driver was at fault for your father’s damages, your father’s osteoporosis should have no negative effect on his case. To prove that the other driver should be found at fault, your father will have to prove that he was negligent and that his negligence caused your father’s injuries. The contributory effect of your father’s osteoporosis to his injuries should not be relevant to this analysis.

Without more information, I cannot tell you whether he will be able to prove that the other driver was at fault. However, because of the eggshell plaintiff rule, you should not be too concerned about the effect your father’s pre-existing condition of osteoporosis will have on his claim. If you have further questions on this subject or you wish to learn more, please give us a call.

This blog should be used for informational purposes only. It does not create an attorney-client relationship with any reader and should not be construed as legal advice. If you or someone you know wishes to seek the help of an experienced personal injury attorney regarding Pre-Existing Conditions in Personal Injury Claims or other personal injury matters, call 480.461.5300. Udall Shumway PLC is located in Mesa, Arizona and is a full service law firm. We assist Individuals, families, businesses, schools and municipalities in Mesa and the Phoenix/East Valley.