MUST ALL HARM CAUSED BE FORESEEABLE FOR A PLAINTIFF TO RECOVER THOSE DAMAGES?
Sometimes the black letter law passed by the legislature is unclear. The legislature can’t anticipate every possible fact scenario when they pass a law, so it lay to the courts to interpret the law and give guidance to what it means. This interpretation is called case law. When the court decides a certain meeting to the law it essentially answers a legal question. Lawyers and other courts then can rely on that ruling when they have a similar issue in their case. The following case answers the question above.
Noel v. Pizza Management, Inc., 258 Kan. 3, 899 P.2d 1013 (1995).
This case addresses the following issue:
Must all harm caused be foreseeable for a plaintiff to recover those damages?
This case arose from fraud in a corporate context. Id. at 3. However, it offers a good point of law for personal injuries cases regarding damages. Specifically, the court was asked to decide if all injury must be foreseeable to a defendant in order for a plaintiff to recover for those injuries. Id. at 13. The court ultimately found that, under the “thin skull” doctrine, so long as some harm is foreseeable, a defendant is liable for all harm that arises from a particularly vulnerable plaintiff. Id.
Plaintiff’s claim arose from a false promise by Defendant concerning the sale of stock owned by Plaintiff. Id. at 5. Defendant enticed Plaintiff to sell much of his stock, noting that Defendant had no intention of “going public,” despite rumors to the contrary. Id. Making stock public generally causes a skyrocket in price, as the stock is more valuable because more individuals can buy it. Id. at 6. Despite these assurances, the stock went public and Defendant sold all of Plaintiff’s former shares for high profits. Id. Plaintiff alleged that this financial hit occurred at a time in his life that caused particular harm based upon his financial situation. Id. Thus, Plaintiff sought not only the price difference, but also tens of thousands of dollars of additional damages that Plaintiff traced to not having the money immediately. Id.
Under the thin-skull doctrine, a defendant “must accept the injured person’s condition at the time” of the wrongdoing. Id. at 13. Thus, if a defendant punches an individual who has had multiple head injuries, and the blow coupled with the past head injuries causes severe brain damage, the defendant is still liable. Id. The law doesn’t look at this as punishing a defendant, but failing to apply the rule as punishing a “thin-skulled” plaintiff. Id. After all, the defendant knew he was doing something wrong, he just didn’t expect the extent of harm that followed from the wrong. Id.
Ultimately, the court found that this is the best test under the thin-skull doctrine. Id. If any harm is a foreseeable result of the wrongdoing, then all harm that flows from the wrongdoing is the responsibility of the defendant. Id.