Many of us have given friends playful punches, taps and
shoves while horsing around. Usually nobody gets hurt. But what if the
recipient is unusually fragile and what seems like harmless fun results in severe
Under the so-called “eggshell skull” doctrine, you “take
your victim as you find him.” In other words, you are responsible for the full
extent of any harm, not just the level of the harm you may have foreseen.
An interesting twist on this issue came up in a recent case
out of Lincoln, Nebraska.
There, a sheriff’s deputy playfully hit a Lincoln police
officer on the left shoulder as he greeted her, not knowing she’d recently had
rotator cuff surgery. The punch caused her serious injury.
The officer, who worked for the city, filed for worker’s
compensation and was awarded more than $63,000. The city in turn sought to
recover from the county, which employed the sheriff’s deputy who caused the
harm. Ultimately, the court found that the incident constituted “battery”
rather than negligence. As a result, under a quirk in state law, the county was
immune from responsibility. But theoretically, if the county wasn’t immune on a
technicality it could have been found responsible for the entire $63,000 even though
the deputy had no idea the cop was in such a delicate state.