Jerome, Salmi & Kopis, LLC – Law Firm in Fairview Heights, IL

What is the Eggshell Rule in Personal Injury Law?

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A key concept in personal injury law stipulates the defendant in a lawsuit “takes his victim as he finds him.” What does this mean, exactly? And how does this doctrine affect your Illinois or Missouri personal injury case?

Also called the “eggshell rule” or “eggshell plaintiff rule,” this doctrine essentially means a defendant’s liability is not reduced because a victim is more vulnerable to injury. The fact that someone who is disabled or weaker is more susceptible to injury than the typical person does not reduce a defendant’s legal liability. Consequently, a personal injury client should receive full compensation for all their financial and non-financial losses.

If you have been injured, contact Jerome Salmi Kopis, LLC today. Our legal team specializes in personal injury cases and will do everything we can to assist you as you seek compensation.

Tort Law

Personal injury cases in both Illinois and Missouri are civil cases. A tort is a civil wrong which violates a person’s rights. As a result, the victim can sue for compensation and receive money damages to make up for all losses suffered as a violation of their rights.

Some torts are intentional, such as assault or battery. A person who touches another person without permission has committed battery because they have invaded the victim’s right to bodily autonomy. In essence, no one can touch you in any way, without your permission. 

Another tort is negligence. Unlike assault, which is intentional, negligence stems from the failure to use reasonable care. In other words, a person accidentally strikes you because they were distracted or lazy and caused injury.

The Eggshell Plaintiff

By contrast, some people are very susceptible to injury—more so than the average person. They might have a pre-existing injury or an illness which makes them vulnerable. Someone with osteoporosis, for example, is more likely to fracture a bone. When bones are very brittle, even a gentle bump can lead to fractures.

We call anyone susceptible to injury an “eggshell plaintiff.” The name is self-explanatory. Just as an eggshell can crack under little pressure, a brittle personal injury victim can easily “crack” as well.

For a long time, defendants have tried to argue they can’t be responsible for an injury suffered by an eggshell plaintiff. The reasoning is that “a person who was healthy wouldn’t have suffered a physical injury, so it is unfair to hold the defendant legally liable because they touched a vulnerable person”. Under Missouri and Illinois law, however, this argument is not persuasive.

The Eggshell Plaintiff Doctrine in Missouri

In many personal injury cases, an accident victim comes to us with a pre-existing condition. This is what renders them an “eggshell” plaintiff in the eyes of the law. Maybe they have osteoporosis or a pre-existing injury to a limb, like their elbow or knee. After getting into a car accident, they injure their already injured body even more. In other words, the accident aggravates their pre-existing condition.

The Missouri Supreme Court held, in a 1964 case Miller v. Gulf. Mobile, that defendants are typically liable for aggravating pre-existing conditions. In that case, a person was injured in a fall off the train. The victim had also suffered from “severe” osteoarthritis in his knee, which the fall aggravated.

At trial, many medical witnesses claimed the fall caused only minor injury to the knee and most of the victim’s problems stemmed from his osteoarthritis (as well as being overweight). The legal question was whether the pain and disability he experienced in his knee was caused by the fall or whether it was the “natural progression” of his disease.

As the Missouri Supreme Court emphasized, state law allows an accident victim to receive compensation when a defendant aggravates a pre-existing condition by wrongful conduct. The key question will be how much the defendant aggravated the injury.

The Eggshell Plaintiff Doctrine in Illinois

Like Missouri, Illinois has long recognized an eggshell plaintiff has a right to receive compensation and any pre-existing injury or condition cannot defeat that right. In fact, Illinois has codified this rule in the Illinois Pattern Civil Jury Instruction No. 30.21. In essence, this instruction states jurors who determine the defendant is liable cannot “deny or limit” the plaintiff’s damages because of a pre-existing injury or condition.

This rule is a relief to those in Illinois who are harmed in accidents, even if they suffer from chronic ailments or prior injuries. A defendant cannot escape liability by pointing out the victim was already injured. Instead, a jury should reject that reasoning and instead move to a consideration of the damages that the defendant is responsible for.

How the Eggshell Rule Affects Your Case

If you suffer from pre-existing illnesses or injuries, you should still seek compensation for any aggravation of your condition. Contact JSK to find out more about your case. 


In both Illinois and Missouri, a defendant cannot escape liability by pointing out you have a pre-existing injury. Instead, the question is, “Did they make your condition worse either intentionally or negligently?” If the answer is yes, then they will probably need to pay the victim compensation. You will find out how much at court or during negotiations, and we at JSK will ensure you get what you deserve. 


In our experience, the real issue in dispute is damages. Generally, any personal injury victim should receive compensation for the harm caused by the defendant. But because there is a pre-existing injury, the question is always how much harm did the defendant cause.

We see many pre-existing illnesses and injuries, including:

  • Osteoporosis
  • Osteoarthritis
  • Previous concussions
  • Back injuries, including degenerative disc conditions
  • Bursitis
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder
  • Prior surgery

Let’s say you suffer from the after-effects of a traumatic brain injury (TBI). As a result, you need to miss a few days of work each week just to rest. You also take medications for pain, anxiety, and sleeplessness. To help manage your symptoms, you attend therapy a few times a month and experience general fatigue and lack of interest in activities.

Now you suffer a second TBI in a car accident caused by a speeding driver. Your condition is made much worse—pain, irritability, sleeplessness, mood disorders, and so forth. Instead of missing two days of work a week, you don’t work at all. You miss all 5 days. You also need to spend time in the hospital following the accident and double the amount of therapy you take.

In a lawsuit, the defendant will argue he is not responsible for all the fallout from the second TBI. It’s our job at JSK as your lawyer to fight this case and remind the court the eggshell rule does apply and you can still get compensation. 

Will You Receive Full Compensation for Your Injuries?

If you are an eggshell plaintiff (so to speak), you are probably worried about how much you will receive in compensation. Our clients usually seek money to pay for medical care and replace lost income, plus compensation for pain, suffering, and disfigurement. Our skilled attorneys should make the strongest argument possible for receiving maximum compensation.

Medical Expert Testimony

One challenge is establishing with a degree of certainty how much an accident aggravated a pre-existing injury. To do this, they need a doctor to explain how much a person’s current disability stems from the defendant’s actions and how much is simply part of a degenerative condition. Is the new injury 50% to blame? 90%? It’s a difficult question.

At Jerome Salmi Kopis, we have developed a deep network of medical professionals who can serve as expert witnesses. They bring much needed credibility to the process, especially where the other side is constantly pointing toward your pre-existing injury as the real cause of your pain.

Key Takeaways

  • The eggshell rule does not allow a defendant to escape liability for their intentional tort or negligence.
  • A pre-existing condition may matter when it comes to calculating damages, but only a lawyer with JSK can let you know for sure.
  • Our seasoned personal injury attorneys can help establish how much of your suffering is due to the defendant and get you the compensation you deserve.

Contact Our Firm to Get Started

Personal injury claims often raise difficult legal and factual issues. Our team has the skills you need to get the compensation you deserve following an accident. Contact us to schedule a time to meet.

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