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Eggshell-Skull Rule in Texas Car Accidents

car mirrorIn Pattillo v. Franco, the plaintiff sued the defendant for damages sustained in a car accident. The jury didn’t award damages, and the plaintiff argued on appeal that the trial court had made a mistake in refusing to submit requested instructions regarding the eggshell-skull rule and circumstantial evidence.

The case arose in 2010 when the defendant rear-ended the plaintiff in stop-and-go traffic. The plaintiff claimed she was okay. Since there was not much damage, they exchanged insurance information and then continued on their way.

Three weeks later, the plaintiff went to a chiropractor, claiming she’d hurt her back in a car accident. She was later diagnosed with a lumbar herniated disc and received epidural steroidal injections in 2011. However, she had no medical treatment for her back during the following two years. She received a third epidural steroidal injection in 2014.

She also complained of a sore shoulder and after an MRI was diagnosed with a strain and bone contusion. The medical records showed she had a chronic, two-year history of pain in that shoulder.

At trial, the defendant stipulated to liability, and only the issue of damages went to a jury. The plaintiff testified as to her back pain and testified she’d never before gotten medical care for her back. However, during cross-examination, she admitted that she’d gotten treatment for lower back pain in 2010 before the accident. She simply said she didn’t remember when asked for an explanation for not mentioning this. She also provided contradictory testimony about which shoulder she’d injured.

The trial court conducted a charge conference at which the plaintiff’s attorney asked for instructions on the eggshell-skull rule and circumstantial evidence. These requests were denied. The plaintiff’s attorney argued to the jury that they should consider circumstantial evidence related to the plaintiff’s injury, and the attorney also argued that if the plaintiff had a preexisting condition, the defendant had aggravated it.

The jury awarded the plaintiff no damages. The plaintiff appealed. She argued that the trial judge should have instructed the jury that both circumstantial and direct evidence could establish a fact, and a fact could be established by circumstantial evidence if it could be reasonably inferred from other proven facts. The plaintiff argued that since this instruction wasn’t provided, the jury didn’t know they could rely on circumstantial evidence.

The appellate court found that the refusal of the requested instruction probably didn’t cause an improper judgment, as required by Texas Rule of Appellate Procedure 44.1(a)(1). The plaintiff’s attorney repeatedly argued that the jury should consider circumstantial evidence in reaching its decision.

The plaintiff also argued that the judge should have instructed the jury on the eggshell-skull rule, which requires a defendant to take a plaintiff as she finds her. This means that, regardless of a plaintiff’s physical state at the time of an accident, she may be able to recover damages resulting from the accident. This is true even if she was particularly susceptible to the injuries, and her damages are more than what they would have been without that sensitivity.

The plaintiff had basically argued this in her closing argument. The appellate court found that even if the refusal to give this instruction was an abuse of discretion, it probably didn’t cause the jury to give an improper judgment.

If you are hurt in a car accident, the experienced San Antonio attorneys at Carabin & Shaw may be able to represent you and develop a sound strategy for handling your case. Call our office for more information at 1-800-862-1260.

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