Schafer v. Hoffman

831 P.2d 897 (Colo. 1992)



Under the thin skull doctrine, a tortfeasor may not seek to reduce the amount of damages owed to the victim by spotlighting the physical frailties of the injured party at the time the tortious force was applied to him. A thin skull instruction is appropriately given when the defendant seeks to avoid liability by asserting that the victim's injuries would have been less severe had the victim been an average person. 


Petitioner driver struck the respondent pedestrian with his vehicle. Petitioner was under the influence of alcohol and drugs at the time of the collision. Respondent brought a damage action against the driver and the jury was given a "thin skull instruction." At trial, the jury heard evidence of the victim's prior health problems and a jury verdict was made in favor of respondent. The court of appeals affirmed the jury's verdict. On review, the court affirmed.


Was respondent entitled to the "thin skull doctrine" instruction?




The court affirmed the decision of the court of appeals because a thin skull instruction was appropriately given when the driver sought to avoid liability by asserting that the pedestrian's injuries would have been less severe had the pedestrian been a normal person. Further, under Colorado law, a tortfeasor must accept his victim as the victim was found. Accordingly, the pedestrian was entitled to the thin skull instruction because there was evidence in the record to support it. The negligent defendant is liable for the resulting harm even though the harm is increased by the particular plaintiff's condition at the time of the negligent conduct.  

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