The Eggshell Skull Rule
Suppose that a mugger approaches a jogger on a street, hoping to steal the jogger's wallet. In order to disable the jogger, the mugger strikes him on the head. Unbeknownst to the mugger, the jogger suffers from a rare medical condition that has made his skull as thin and fragile as an eggshell. Therefore, the mugger's assault kills the jogger. Under the "Eggshell Skull Rule," the mugger is liable for the death of the jogger, even though the jogger's death was unintended and unexpected.
The Eggshell Skull Rule provides that a defendant takes a plaintiff as he finds him and must pay damages accordingly. In other words, a defendant is liable for unexpected injuries resulting from his intentional or negligent conduct. The Eggshell Skull Rule usually applies to plaintiffs who are unusually susceptible to certain injuries. For example, the Eggshell Skull Rule would probably apply in the following scenarios.
First, a bank robber walks into a bank and points a gun at a cashier. The cashier immediately has a heart attack and dies. After the cashier's death, the robber learns that she suffered from a heart condition. The family of the cashier files a wrongful death action against the robber. The robber will probably be liable for the cashier's death, even though her death was unexpected.
Second, a contractor agrees to construct an addition to a homeowner's house. The contractor negligently constructs the addition. The ceiling of the addition collapses onto the homeowner. An ordinary person would have survived the collapse with minimal injuries, but the homeowner is mentally unstable. The collapse causes the homeowner to suffer a mental breakdown that requires months of hospitalization. In a personal injury action, the contractor may be liable for the cost of the homeowner's hospitalization and any other expenses related to the homeowner's mental breakdown.
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