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Understanding the Responsibility to Reduce Legal Damages

Having a duty to mitigate damages means that the plaintiff must take reasonable steps to reduce or minimize any harm caused by their injuries. In other words, it is the responsibility of the injured party to make an effort to minimize the number of damages they claim from the defendant.

Failure to do so can have serious consequences on the outcome of a personal injury case. Our San Diego personal injury attorneys discuss what it means to have a duty to mitigate damages in a personal injury case and how failure to do so can impact a personal injury claim.

What is the Definition of Duty to Mitigate Damages?

In personal injury law, the “duty to mitigate damages” refers to a legal obligation of an injured party to take reasonable steps to minimize their losses. This means that an injured person must do whatever is reasonably possible to limit or reduce the financial burden that their injury has caused.

For example, if an individual is injured in a car accident, they must seek medical care to prevent further harm or damage. Taking these steps to be reasonable and proactive as a plaintiff works towards maximizing your personal injury case.

What are the Common Law & Statute Definitions?

The duty to mitigate damages can be found in common law and statutes. In common law, the concept of mitigation of damages is based on the idea that an injured party should not be able to benefit from their own negligence.

Statutes, like those for the State of California, provide more explicit guidance on the steps an injured person must take to minimize their losses.

When an injured person fails to take reasonable steps to reduce the damages they can recover in a personal injury claim, they have breached their duty to mitigate damages. This can significantly reduce the amount of compensation they can receive.

What is Legal Basis for the Duty to Mitigate Damages?

Under tort law, every person has a duty to mitigate damages. This means that when someone suffers an injury or loss because of another person’s negligence or intentional misconduct, the injured party must take reasonable steps to limit the extent of their losses. A failure to do so may lead to a reduction of damages awarded by a court.

The legal basis for this obligation is based on the principle of fairness. It is seen as unfair if a person makes no effort to mitigate the consequences of another’s wrongdoing and then be fully compensated by the wrongdoer for all damages suffered.

The duty to mitigate applies regardless of whether an individual seeks compensation through a court action or an out-of-court settlement. Understand that this obligation is not absolute, and there are circumstances where it does not apply.

For example, if an injury victim fails to take appropriate steps to minimize damages because their injuries prohibit it, they will not be found at fault. However, in most cases, individuals must take reasonable steps to reduce losses and damages or face the risk of having their damages reduced by a court.

Is There a Difference Between Comparative Fault and Mitigation of Damages?

Comparative fault and mitigation of damages are two distinct, yet equally important, concepts in personal injury law. Comparative fault refers to the idea that when multiple parties are responsible for an injury or loss, each party’s liability should be determined based on their relative degree of fault. In states that follow a comparative fault system (like California), an injured person can still recover damages from other parties even if they are partially at fault for the incident. However, the amount of damages awarded will be reduced by the percentage of fault attributed to the injured person.

On the other hand, mitigation of damages refers to the obligation of the injured person to take reasonable steps to minimize the impact of their injuries or losses. For example, an injured person should seek medical treatment, follow their doctor’s advice, and try to return to work as soon as possible if they are in the position to do so. If the injured person fails to mitigate their damages, the amount of damages they are awarded may be substantially reduced.

In summary, comparative fault is used to assign the degree of responsibility to each party for an incident, while mitigation of damages refers to the efforts taken by the injured party to minimize the consequences of their injuries.

Types of Damages That Can Be Recovered in a Personal Injury Case

In a personal injury claim, you can recover two types of damages: economic and non-economic.

  • Economic damages are direct losses caused by the injury and generally include past and future medical bills, lost wages, and property damage. These are tangible losses that you can calculate effortlessly.
  • Non-economic damages are more subjective and include pain and suffering, emotional distress, loss of consortium, and loss of enjoyment of life. These damages are not as quantifiable as economic damages.

In addition to economic and non-economic damages, punitive damages may be awarded in some cases. Punitive damages are intended to punish the defendant for reckless or egregious behavior and are only awarded if the defendant’s conduct was especially outrageous or negligent.

Example of Duty to Mitigate Damages in California Personal Injury Cases

In the State of California, an injured party must mitigate their damages. This means they must take reasonable steps to reduce or avoid any further losses resulting from the incident.

For example, if an injured party sustains an injury in a car accident and is unable to work, they are required to actively search for alternate employment or take steps to reduce their expenses to limit the number of economic damages they can recover.

In addition, if an injured party sustains an injury requiring medical treatment, they must follow through with their doctor’s orders and take all necessary steps to ensure that their injuries do not worsen. If they fail to do this and their injuries worsen, they could be found negligent in their duty and denied some or all of the damages they claim.

Finally, if an injured party fails to seek the proper medical care, they may be limited in the compensation they can recover for pain and suffering due to their failure to mitigate damages.

Take all necessary steps to mitigate damages to ensure you receive maximum compensation for your injuries.

What Happens If an Injury Victim Neglects to Mitigate Damages?

If an injury victim fails to mitigate damages, that victim may be found to have contributed to the extent of their injuries or losses which mean that they may be held partially responsible for them. This can result in a reduction of the amount of damages awarded to the victim. While it may feel overwhelming in the moment of an event like this happening, it’s critical to try to take steps right away to safeguard your claim. In turn, it’s just as important to reach out to an attorney as soon as possible to discuss the details of your case so that they can help you to formulate a strategy that will safeguard any potential claim that you may have going forward.

Get Help With Your California Personal Injury Case From Experienced Attorneys at HHJ Trial Attorneys

In conclusion, the duty to mitigate damages is a fundamental principle of personal injury law, placing an obligation on the injured party to take reasonable steps to minimize their losses. The failure to fulfill this duty could lead to a significant reduction in compensation. Comparative fault and mitigation of damages, although related, serve different roles in the legal process. It’s important to comprehend the difference and how each can influence the outcome of a personal injury case. Moreover, understanding the types of damages recoverable in a personal injury claim can guide your actions post-incident. The mitigation of damages is not an absolute rule, and exceptions apply under certain circumstances. Engaging knowledgeable personal injury attorneys, such as HHJ Trial Attorneys, can aid in navigating these complex legal waters, helping you maximize the compensation you receive for your injuries.


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