Stephenson, a steeplejack, injured himself while working for Waite Tileman when a wire rope on a crane broke and cut his hand. It was determined that the breaking was negligent, as it should not have been allowed to come into such disrepair. As a result, Stephenson developed a serious virus and became chronically infirm. It is unclear whether he had a pre-existing condition that led to this outcome, or whether it was simply a result of a virus entering the wound. Waite Tileman were successful at trial based on the Wagon Mound reasoning – the jury found the outcome to be unforeseeable, and Stephenson appealed.
- Which rule applies – the "thin skull" rule, or Wagon Mound?
- Does it make a difference if Stephenson had a preexisting condition that led to the outcome?
Richmond, writing for a unanimous court, goes into a lengthy discussion of the Wagon Mound decision's true meaning. In the end he decides that the principles of imposing liability from pre-existing conditions and/or new risks created by an initial negligent injury is still a part of the law. He states that the question of foreseeability should be limited to the initial injury. If this is established, then any injuries flowing from the original injury are coverable by damages from Waite Tileman. In this case, both parties agree that the initial injury was the result of a negligent action. The judge states that it doesn’t matter if Stephenson had a pre-existing condition or not – the initial injury was foreseeable and any further resulting complications do not have to be to qualify for damages.
- Despite the Wagon Mound test, in personal injuries the principles of imposing liability from pre-existing conditions and/or new risks created by an initial negligent injury remain intact.
- The "thin skull" rule still applies, and parties are liable for all subsequent injuries that develop as a result of the original foreseeable injury.