Koch v. United States of America, 5th Cir., No. 15-30811, May 12, 2017

“Eggshell skull” rule upheld in maritime personal injury action under Longshore and Harborworkers’ Compensation Act and found not limited to latent or unmanifested preexisting conditions.

The plaintiff fell down a stairwell while onboard the federal government-owned S.S. Altair, resulting in injuries primarily to his head, neck, shoulders and knees. It was undisputed that the plaintiff had preexisting conditions, such as chronic osteoarthritis in both his knees, degenerative disc disease in his cervical spine and carpal tunnel syndrome. Nevertheless, the Fifth Circuit, in affirming the District Court’s decision, reiterated the following principle set forth by the Second Circuit in Maurer v. United States, 668 F.2d 98, 99-100 (2d Cir. 1997): “When a defendant’s wrongful act causes injury, he is fully liable for the resulting damage even though the injured plaintiff had a preexisting condition that made the consequences of the wrongful act more severe than they would have been for a normal victim.” The court acknowledged the two exceptions to the general rule: (1) when a plaintiff is incapacitated or disabled prior to an accident, the defendant is only liable for the additional harm or aggravation caused; and (2) when a plaintiff has a preexisting condition that would inevitably worsen, a defendant causing subsequent injury is entitled to have the plaintiff’s damages discounted to reflect the proportion of damages that would have been suffered even in the absence of the subsequent injury. However, the court found both exceptions inapplicable to the subject facts. Ultimately, the Fifth Circuit extended Maurer, finding the “eggshell skull” rule not to be limited in application to latent or unmanifested preexisting conditions. 


Case Law Alerts, 3rd Quarter, July 2017

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