Thin Skull Rule:
What's My Skull Got To Do With It?

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The thin skull rule is something your ICBC or personal injury lawyer might look at in your civil litigation matter. When one party (the “plaintiff”) sues another party (the “defendant”) the defendant must take her victim as she finds him. 

What does that mean?   A defendant is generally responsible for putting the plaintiff back in the position that he or she would have been in without the defendant’s action or negligence.  In civil litigation we can't go back in time and undo the accident or injury, however, we can get compensation for someone who has been injured.

The Thin Skull Rule:

For example, if the defendant hits the plaintiff on the head and his skull shatters from the blow she will be responsible for the full extent of the injury to his skull.  Even if the plaintiff had a particularly thin skull and the force of the blow would have only caused bruising on someone else, the defendant is still responsible for the full injury. 

This is called the thin skull rule.  Some call it the eggshell skull rule. In this situation, the person’s skull is more fragile than normal, but it was working fine and it would have been possible for the plaintiff to go his whole life without any problems with his skull. The defendant changed all that when she gave him the blow to the head. She is responsible for the full extent of the injuries even though the skull itself was thin and quite vulnerable in the first place.  

The Crumbling Skull Rule:

The thin skull rule is different from what we refer to as the "crumbling skull rule." This rule applies when a plaintiff has a skull that was already deteriorating when the defendant hit him.  If the defendant cracks a skull that was going to become cracked even without being hit, then the defendant would have only been an aggravating cause of the injury.  

Of course most of us don’t go around hitting people on the head, but the thin skull and crumbling skull principles also apply to other injuries and other situations. Let's provide an example that a lawyer's office might see. While driving home the defendant hits two people – soon to be plaintiffs - crossing the street.  Both plaintiffs are hit with the same force and both fall down.  Plaintiff A (we will call her Joanne) gets back up and has minor scrapes. Joanne is completely recovered in a few days.  Plaintiff B (we will call him Joshua) on the other hand, has to be taken to the hospital and subsequently reports pain for two years.  Joshua is unable to work for a year and a half after the accident.  As long as Joshua is able to prove to the court that his injuries were more likely than not caused by the defendant, then the defendant will be responsible for all of his pain and suffering and loss of wages (thank goodness for insurance!).  The defendant will not be able to use the fact that Joanne was not injured as a way to avoid liability for Joshua’s injuries.  This is because Joshua had a “thin skull” and the defendant had to take her victim as she found him.

Written by Alison Eustace, personal injury lawyer

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