What Does it Mean to Mitigate Damages?
If an accident results in injuries, the victim can sue the negligent party for damages. Some cases can be easy to sort out, but what if the victim played a role in causing the accident or made their damages worse? The defendant could claim that the victim could have avoided the accident or at least minimized their losses due to injury.
This concept is known as mitigation of damages. If you ever find yourself in the midst of a personal injury claim, it helps to understand what it means to mitigate damages.
Defining Mitigation of Damages
Mitigation of damages is the concept that victims have a duty to take reasonable steps to prevent or minimize their damages after an injury.
MItigation of damages often applies to contract law, but it can also be an affirmative defense in other cases, including personal injury suits. Additionally, in Texas, the mitigation of damages can be applied to some property law cases.
While a negligent defendant won’t likely avoid paying damages to an injured plaintiff, this affirmative defense may reduce the amount for which they are liable. Although mitigation of damages does not apply to every case, it can prevent plaintiffs from seeking excessive awards for circumstances beyond the defendant’s control.
Applying Mitigation of Damages
In personal injury cases, the mitigation of damages can vary depending on the facts of the case. Part of the mitigation of damages doctrine relies on the victim’s obligation to minimize the losses they sustain. Courts consider whether or not a reasonable, ordinary person would have acted in the same fashion the plaintiff did when incurring financial expenses or avoiding them.
Mitigation of damages is an attempt to prevent victims from intentionally sustaining significant losses to gain more monetary compensation. It’s meant to prevent defendants from covering unreasonable outcomes, like self-inflicted injuries intended to procure larger awards.
When the Victim Refuses Medical Treatment
Say a plaintiff refuses treatment after an accident and injury, they may have a duty to mitigate their damages by seeking medical treatment. Later, the victim sues the other driver for injuries related to the accident even though they refused treatment at the scene.
This situation complicates matters because the victim could have been examined by medical personnel and treated immediately after the accident. If their injuries seemed minimal, like a sprain or some cuts and bruises, a reasonable person may have acted the same way and not realized the extent of their injuries until much later.
In this situation, several factors could affect the outcome. Did the victim immediately see their general physician to discover the extent of their damages? What if the victim didn’t seek treatment for weeks, allowing the injuries to progress from mild to moderate or severe?
Further, if the victim ignores medical advice, refuses surgery, or uses an alternative or questionable treatment, the defendant may have more support for their claims. It all comes down to how far the victim deviates from what a reasonable, ordinary person would do in the same situation.
The Victim Fails to Seek Work
One aspect of damages that victims can claim is a loss of wages. If their injuries led to lost wages or even job loss, they should be compensated. However, if the victim could perform some sort of work, they need to attempt to find employment and limit the amount of lost wages. If they do not, they may have failed to mitigate their damages.
Proving Mitigation of Damages
In a personal injury case, the burden of proof is usually on the claimant to prove the elements of their case. However, when a defendant claims mitigation of damages as an affirmative defense, they assume the burden of proof.
To prove their claims, the defendant must prove that the plaintiff failed to take reasonable actions to prevent their damages. Remember, the defendant doesn’t have to prove that the plaintiff could have prevented the injuries altogether but rather that they failed to take steps to minimize their damages.
Some of the things a court may consider include:
- How long the victim waited to seek treatment after the incident.
- The opportunities available to the victim to limit the damages.
- How financially feasible the treatment or mitigation would have been in light of the victim’s finances at the time.
Mitigation of damages can be a tricky concept, especially when it comes to personal injury claims. Determining what constitutes a reasonable effort to one person may not be as clear to another. It may be in your best interest to seek out experienced legal counsel to help break down the aspects of your case.