Many South Florida personal injury lawyers offer up a wealth of information about things like, “What to do after a car accident,” or, “Ways nursing homes can be liable for neglect,” and, “Who can file wrongful death litigation?” This insight is valuable, but much of it presumes the person involved was not already disabled or medically vulnerable. There is a presumption that one day he or she is completely fine, then they encounter someone else’s negligence, and now they have serious injuries with long-term consequences. But what if you had a pre-existing condition? What if you were already medically fragile?
In Florida, this is an important consideration because it:
- Ranks No. 2 nationally for having the highest percentage of the population over the age of 65. There are an estimated 73 million baby boomers nationally, with many vacationing in Florida or having second homes here, even if they don’t live here full time.
- Reports of more than 28 percent of adult residents have some type of disability. That is higher than the national average of 25 percent.
- Has nearly 1.7 million elderly residents with at least one type of disability.
Incidents that give rise to Florida personal injury claims, such as car accidents, slip-and-fall injuries, dangerous product injuries – these do not just happen to young people who had zero health issues beforehand. People who are elderly or disabled may be at increased risk of certain types of injuries (falls in particular). Additionally, the extent of the injuries they are likely to suffer is often more severe, and recovery will take longer.
It is crucial for us as Fort Myers personal injury lawyers to discuss this because the defense can use prior injuries and pre-existing conditions as a way to challenge both liability (who is legally responsible for the injuries) and damages (how much is paid).
What is the Eggshell Skull Rule?
Defendants in Florida personal injury cases will try any possible tactic to reduce their risk of liability and damages. But, as our Fort Myers injury attorneys can explain, this does not mean defendants should be held any less responsible for more serious injuries because the plaintiff was already more physically fragile. This is where the eggshell skull rule comes in.
The eggshell skull rule is a longtime common law legal doctrine that holds that a wrongdoer takes the victim in the condition he/she finds him. You do not get a break on liability or damages just because the person hurt was already in a weakened state. If a defendant negligently causes the injury of someone else, then they are responsible for all the resulting consequences – whether they were foreseeable or not. This has been affirmed numerous times in past case law, and Florida Standard Civil Jury Instruction 401.12 expressly states that negligence need not be the only cause of an injury to be considered the legal cause. Negligence can be the legal cause of a loss, injury, or damage – even though it operated in combination with the act of someone else, a natural cause, or some other cause, so long as the negligence substantially contributing to producing the loss, injury or damage.
Beyond this, Florida Standard Civil Jury Instruction 501.5 talks about how aggravation or activation of a pre-existing disease or defect plays into the question of damages in personal injury cases. If jurors in an injury lawsuit find that defendant’s actions caused a bodily injury that resulted in aggravation or activation of an existing disease or defect, they are to decide what portion of the claimant’s condition resulted from activation/activation – and then award only those damages stemming from that. Further, if evidence is presented that the plaintiff was injured in two different events and the one involving the defendant came later, jurors are supposed to try to separate the damages caused by the two events and award damages only caused by the defendant. But if they cannot separate the two, jurors are supposed to award damages for the entire condition suffered.
Still, keep in mind that these are not easy cases, and Florida personal injury lawsuits carry the proof burden of proving the claims by the preponderance of the evidence. Those who are elderly, disabled, or medically fragile are at higher risk of suffering more serious injuries and future complications. Because of this, they must consult with an experienced personal injury lawyer who will fight to ensure that there is full accountability for both liability and damages.
If you are injured in Fort Myers, Naples, or Key West, contact our injury attorneys at Garvin Law Firm at 800.977.7017 for a free initial consultation.
Rardin v. T & D Machine Handling, Inc., Nov. 21, 1989, U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit
More Blog Entries:
Settlement vs. Trial: How Do They Compare in a Florida Personal Injury Lawsuit? Aug. 12, 2020, Fort Myers Personal Injury Lawyer Blog