What Can We Learn from the Heather Childers Settlement?

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Contrary to popular myth, this settlement has nothing to do with Childers’ controversial dismissal from Fox News in 2020. During the early days of the coronavirus pandemic, the morning host came to work sick. Executives benched her and then fired her, although she twice tested negative for COVID-19.

That brouhaha might or might not be illegal. Under normal circumstances, it’s illegal to fire sick workers. However, coronavirus changed many of these legal rules. For example, it’s also illegal to ask workers health questions. But during the pandemic, officials created an exception to this rule if a worker sneezed, coughed, or showed other illness symptoms.

Instead, the Heather Childers settlement usually refers to a long saga that began when she was just 16. After she hit a tree with her car, doctors had to perform reconstructive facial and oral surgery on Childers. Despite the surgery, she still experienced symptoms like muscle weakness, trouble walking, numbness, and spasticity.

These symptoms played a role in a subsequent accident. While on assignment at Fort Bragg, Childers fell while rappelling down a retaining wall. This activity normally isn’t too dangerous, but her prior injuries increased the risk and severity of her fall injuries.

The Eggshell Skull Rule

Many people, and not just former national TV news personalities, have pre-existing conditions. That pre-existing condition is usually a prior injury, as it was in this case, or a current illness, like arthritis.

Often, a pre-existing condition turns a moderate injury, like a rappelling fall, into a serious injury. Childers’ lingering symptoms prevented her from turning her head and taking other such precautions. Also because of the previous injury, she needed spinal fusion surgery.

An insurance company or other defendant shouldn’t receive a financial windfall in such cases. No one should be able to cash in because of someone else’s vulnerabilities. Additionally, the victim, which in this case was Childers, still has medical bills to pay. She couldn’t help the fact that she was vulnerable to serious injury.

The eggshell skull rule normally protects victims in these situations. Basically, defendants must take plaintiffs as they find them, pre-existing conditions and all.

Settling Injury Cases

In the Childers settlement, the amount wasn’t made public and the defendant, which in this case was the government, didn’t admit responsibility.

The settlement value of an injury claim usually starts with the medical bills and other out-of-pocket losses. Then, a personal injury attorney adds a reasonable amount of compensation for emotional distress and other noneconomic losses.

Settlement negotiations, like all other financial negotiations, usually involve some give and take. An attorney helps ensure that the victim does most of the taking, as opposed to most of the giving.

Lawsuits against Fort Bragg or other government properties have some additional procedural hurdles. For example, attorneys must normally file notices of claim before they file legal action. If the government doesn’t make a reasonable settlement offer within a set time period, usually 60 days, a lawyer can file a legal action.

Picture of Bret Thurman

Bret Thurman

Bret is a former lawyer and full-time writer who knows how to simplify complex topics. He received his law degree from the University of Texas at Austin. For over twenty years, he handled a wide variety of cases, including criminal defense, personal injury, family law, and consumer bankruptcy.

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