Benn v. Thomas (Iowa 1994)

Procedural History: Benn’s executor sued defendant for Lora Benn’s injuries and his death in 1989 after defendant’s vehicle rear-ended the van in which descedent was a passenger. The estate requested a jury instruction based on the “eggshell plaintiff” rule, but the trial judge denied the request and gave a general charge instead. The jury found $17,000 in injuries for plaintiff but did not find defendant liable for his death. The court of appeals reversed the trial court’s judgment and remanded the case based upon error in the jury instruction.

Facts: Benn died of a heart attack 6 days after suffering a bruised chest and fractured ankle in a car accident caused by defendant’s negligence. Benn had a history of coronary disease and insulin-dependent diabetes. He had a heart attack in 1985 and was at risk of having another.

Issue: Is the eggshell plaintiff rule relevant in determining proximate cause and/or damages?

Rules: The “eggshell plaintiff” rule requires the defendant to take his plaintiff as he finds him, even if that means that the defendant must compensate the plaintiff for harm an ordinary person would not have suffered.

Application: Because the eggshell plaintiff rule rejects the limit of foreseeability that courts ordinarily require in the determination of proximate cause, the defendant can still be found liable for defendant’s death in a case where his negligence causes the death, even if the death would not have occurred in an ordinary person.

 

Conclusion: The trial judge erred in not giving instruction on the “eggshell plaintiff” rule. Affirm the court of appeals decision and remand for a new trial.

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