fyodor wrote: Jennifer wrote: JD wrote:
This story, with the teacher recently having undergone eye surgery, reminds me of the eggshell skull rule
, which basically holds that someone who harms another is responsible for the full extent of that harm even if they couldn't have known about it in advance. The name comes from the hypothetical situation in which you bop someone on the head, and an ordinary person would hardly have been injured, but unbeknownst to you, the victim of your bop had a skull as thin as an eggshell, and dies.
I always thought that the eggshell skull rule was a tricky thing. On the one hand, I understand the principle behind making someone fully responsible for the injury that they cause. On the other hand, if I give Fred a friendly tap on the shoulder, the same as I do to everyone else, and because of Fred's rare genetic disorder, this causes him to have a seizure and die, it hardly seems fair to punish me as harshly as if I had intended to kill him.
I'd speculate that the difference between your hypothetical with Fred versus the eggshell skull rule, is that a "friendly tap on the shoulder" is an ordinary commonplace thing which is not intended to cause even temporary pain, whereas a "bop on the head" is not. Even if I "only" intended for you to feel a momentary twinge of pain from that bop on your head, I don't have any right to make you feel that moment of pain in the first place. (Plus, as a practical matter, if someone had a genetic disorder so severe that even the slightest physical contact would result in death or even permanent injury, well, that unfortunate person has a serious disability, and likely can't be out in public anyway. I don't deliberately make physical contact with strangers, but I've certainly bumped into people accidentally, and have been accidentally bumped into in turn, especially in crowded places.)
In other words: it's unreasonable for anybody to go out amongst other people and expect to never experience even the slightest glancing physical contact with another person, but it is
reasonable to expect to go out without having other people bop you on the head.
Yeah, while DAR would know this better, I'm guessing that while that link only speaks vaguely of when you "harm" someone, I think you probably have to be doing something already considered "wrong" in some sense for that rule to apply. Once it's established that you were doing something wrong, THEN the amount of harm actually done
can be considered in adjudicating the punishment, as opposed to only the amount of harm that was intended
That said, one might argue that the eggshell rule is wrong even applied thusly for the same reason, ultimately, that it would be wrong in JC's example, that the amount of harm was incidental to the act when it goes beyond what a reasonable person might expect to ensue from the act. That
said, I don't know if I would go further than JC went when calling it tricky. Maybe it should apply to tort law but not criminal?
The so-called eggshell rule does
apply to tort law and not to criminal law, though I suppose some overzealous prosecutor might bring some sort of reckless endangerment charges or, should the harmed person die, maybe negligent homicide, but who knows? FWIW, in the ancient days of the Common Law, both criminal and tort law arose simultaneously beginning with such obscure pleadings as trespass upon the case and stuff I've long ago forgotten.
Anyway, state legislatures and courts have applied the Common Law in varying degrees and with different resulting rules, so it's pretty unlikely that a casual touching resulting in grave physical harm would result in any serious tort liability unless the alleged tortfeasor was on notice because from knowledge comes duty, but I couldn't say for sure.
Would the touching have to be intentional or would negligence suffice to find against the defendant? Well, again, at Common Law any unprivileged touching constituted battery, an intentional tort and crime. For those playing at home who care what assault was at Common Law, it was intentionally putting someone in apprehension of an imminent unprivileged touching, a distinction that Torts professors have been trying to fool 1Ls about since the dawn of the Law School version of the Socratic Method. This is possibly good cocktail small talk, but most states have codified criminal assault and battery with different definitions and their civil courts have interpreted and applied the old Common Law intentional torts differently, one of the ever shrinking reasons lawyers are not licensed nationally.
Similarly, while the elements of the tort of negligence are the same in all the Common Law states, i.e., failure to meet a duty of care proximately causing legally cognizable harm to others, they may have significantly different case law over time regarding what the duty of care might be, some variation on proximate cause and what constitutes legally cognizable harm. Emotional harm, for example, tends to be a nonstarter except in egregious cases.
So, after all that, the answer remains who knows? Bear in mind that even where such a case makes it to a jury, who knows what the jury will decide?