Duhaime's Law Dictionary

Eggshell Skull Doctrine Definition:

A tort-feasor or a wrongdoer takes his victim as he finds him.

A doctrine of American tort and personal injury law that a wrongdoer takes his victim as he finds him.

A tort victim's compensation or damages are not discounted because of any pre-existing vulnerability.

In Rardin v. T & D Mach. Handling Inc.:

“The injurer takes his victim as he finds him and is therefore liable for the full extent of the injury even if unforeseeable ... even if ... (the plaintiff), because of a pre-existing injury sustains a much greater loss than the average victim would have.”

In other common law jurisdictions, the phrase thin skull rule or thin skull doctrine is preferred.

In Gibson v. County of Washoe, these oft-cited words are used:

“There is almost universal agreement upon liability beyond the risk, for quite unforeseeable consequences, when they follow an impact upon the person of the plaintiff.

"It is as if a magic circle were drawn about the person, and one who breaks it, even by so much as a cut on the finger, becomes liable for all resulting harm to the person, although it may be death....

"The defendant is held liable for unusual results of personal injuries which are regarded as unforeseeable, such as ... heart disease....

"The defendant of course is liable only for the extent to which the defendant's conduct has resulted in an aggravation of the pre-existing condition, and not for the condition as it was; but as to the aggravation, foreseeability is not a factor.”

References and Further Reading:

  • See thin skull rule and crumbling skull rule.
  • Rardin v. T & D Mach. Handling Inc. 890 F.2d 24
  • United States v. Feola 420 U.S. 671 (1975)
  • Gibson v. County of Washoe, United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, published at  290 F.3d 1175 (2001)


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