In a personal injury lawsuit, a person can seek an award of compensatory damages to compensate for injury and property damage caused by the negligence of another person. However, the law imposes on the person an obligation to do everything possible to minimize their damages. This means that they should take steps to reduce or avoid any further injury or damage that might be connected to the accident.
Even if a person is in no way at fault for the accident that has caused their injury and property damage, the person still has an obligation to take reasonable steps to avoid any further loss. They must do what they reasonably can to limit the consequences of the injury. The legal standard that a court uses to evaluate whether an injured person has met their duty to minimize their injuries is to ask whether the person took the steps that an average, reasonable person would have taken in a similar situation.
This duty is known as the “duty to mitigate damages.” An accident victim has a duty to mitigate, or minimize, their damages by seeking standard, professional medical treatment for any injuries they suffer. If medical treatment would help them recover or reduce the severity of their symptoms, a judge or jury expects the person to seek such treatment as part of their efforts to get better.
In a negligence lawsuit, the plaintiff has the burden of proving the economic value of their losses due to injury or property damage. A defendant who claims that the plaintiff did not mitigate their damages has the burden of proving this assertion.
What If a Person Does Not Take Reasonable Steps to Minimize Damages?
When a person has been injured because of the negligence of another person, they may file a lawsuit against the person whose negligence caused their injury. The person becomes a “plaintiff” in legal terminology. The plaintiff has a duty to take reasonable steps to minimize their damage and injury. This means that a person must take reasonable steps to avoid worsening any injury or damage they may have suffered. They must also do everything that is reasonably likely to improve their condition.
At trial, the negligent party, the “defendant” in legal terminology, will attempt to prove that the plaintiff did not take reasonable steps to reduce their losses after the injury, if the known facts support this claim. This is similar to the duty to mitigate damages in a lawsuit for breach of contract.
The plaintiff’s obligation to minimize damages in a personal injury lawsuit is important for promoting fairness in the justice system. It also helps to relieve the court system of frivolous or unreasonable lawsuits.
What Are Some Examples of a Failure to Reduce Personal Injury Damages?
The laws governing personal injury lawsuits vary from state to state. In general, however, some examples of failure to reduce personal injury damages may include the following:
- Not seeking medical attention after an accident;
- Refusing the medical treatment recommended by doctors;
- Not following or disregarding medical advice;
- Refusing recommended surgery;
- Engaging in high risk or unreasonable behavior that could aggravate injuries.
In other words, the plaintiff should seek out the type of medical treatment that an average, reasonable person would seek under similar circumstances. The injured person does not really need to go beyond what is required for their type of injury. Taking the basic steps will generally fulfill the obligation to minimize damages.
What If I Do Not Mitigate Damages as Required?
A plaintiff cannot obtain a larger monetary award for further injury or property damage if they have failed to reduce their damages. For example, suppose that the injured plaintiff refuses surgery for an injury caused by the defendant. They cannot then sue for the cost of treating the injury that could have been remedied by the surgery they did not have. This would be considered unjust for the defendant, as the plaintiff could have prevented their losses.
Another example is an injured plaintiff who chooses to use alternative treatments such as holistic or homeopathic treatments instead of seeking standard medical care. If standard medical treatment would have resolved their injury, the failure to seek such treatment could lead to a reduction of damages that the person can recover in their lawsuit. A judge or a jury in a civil lawsuit for negligence understandably expects the victim to seek treatment as part of their efforts to get better.
It is important to note that an award of damages is not reduced if the plaintiff has received benefits from another source such as an insurance company or a third party donor. This is known as the “Collateral Source Rule” which may be applied differently depending on the state.
For example, if an insurance company has paid the cost of the plaintiff’s medical care, or part of it, the defendant still has to pay the damages to cover the entire cost. However, the insurance company will be entitled to collect an amount that would reimburse the company for the amount it paid out.
Finally, an award of damages in a negligence lawsuit will also be reduced if the plaintiff was actually responsible in part for their own injury. If it is proven that the plaintiff contributed in some way to the accident that caused their injury, they might receive a reduced damages award.
This is known as contributory negligence. The law in the state in which a lawsuit if filed determines how contributory negligence affects a plaintiff’s ability to recover compensation after an accident or loss. Some states allow the plaintiff’s award of damages to be reduced if the plaintiff is partially responsible for the accident in which they were injured. In fact, five states, i.e., Alabama, Maryland, North Carolina, Washington D.C., and Virginia, deny the plaintiff’s claim for damages completely if the plaintiff’s negligence contributed even slightly to causing the accident that resulted in their injury.
But most states apply the law of comparative negligence. Under this law, a court looks to assign financial responsibility in proportion to each party’s level of responsibility in causing the incident. Most U.S. states have adopted the rule of comparative negligence rather than that of contributory negligence either by statute or judicial decision.
So the judge or jury that decides on the verdict in a negligence lawsuit must determine the percentage of each party’s fault and approtin the damages accordingly. So, if a plaintiff is 20% negligent and the defendant is 80% negligent, the award of damages would be reduced by 20%.
Do I Have to Go Back to Work If I Am Injured?
A person who has been injured as a result of a defendant’s negligence does not have to return to work as long as they cannot work because of their injury. However, once the plaintiff is able to work, the plaintiff cannot sit around watching their losses accumulate in order to increase their losses. The plaintiff’s damages will be reduced if they fail to go back to work when they are physically well enough to do that.
Do I Need a Lawyer for Help with Reducing Personal Injury Damages?
Even seemingly simple personal injury lawsuits can become complicated. A court or jury may consider a number of factors when calculating an award of damages.
If you have been injured in an accident caused by the negligence of another person, you should consult an experienced personal injury attorney in your area. Your attorney can advise you of the law in your state and how you can approach the issue of mitigating your damages.