What Does it Mean to Mitigate Damages?
Victims have a right to request compensation from the party that harmed them.
However, the law provides some restrictions and charges the victim with a duty to act in a way that minimizes their damages.
This principle, known as mitigation of damages, is a critical defense for many defendants.
What is Mitigation of Damages?
Mitigation of damages is a legal defense usually seen in tort or contract law. Also known as the doctrine of avoidable consequences, it’s the idea that an injured party cannot recover unreasonable expenses related to their injury when they could have avoided such expenses with reasonable effort.
Indeed, this concept prevents injured parties from receiving damages in situations where they could have reasonably avoided their injury or minimized the cost and impact of their injuries. However, like many aspects of tort and contract law, situations involving the mitigation of damages can become quite complicated.
Understanding Duty to Mitigate Damages
The duty to mitigate damages is the idea that an injured party must take reasonable action to limit the extent of the harm they suffered due to a defendant. For example, in a car accident, you should pull off to the side of the road if possible to avoid being hit by another vehicle. It also applies to seeking medical attention for injuries and following medical instructions to avoid exacerbating injuries.
Common Examples of Damage Mitigation
Since the duty to mitigate damages is a broad term, it’s sometimes easier to understand through real-life examples. Remember, it’s usually used as a defense to offset the defendant’s liability in the matter at hand.
Building or renovating a home can be a stressful process, and not every situation works out for the best. When damages arise, things between the homeowner and the builder or repair team can get dicey.
Imagine a fictitious home that needs a new roof. The homeowner hires a team to repair the roof, but that team fails to complete the job. A few weeks later, a terrible thunderstorm rolls through the area. Since the roof isn’t finished, water leaks in and damages the attic and entire second floor.
In this situation, the roofing team would still be liable for the unfinished repairs. However, a court may find that the homeowner had a duty to hire a different team to complete the roofing job and would not be entitled to damages for the interior damage. In other words, they should have mitigated their damages.
Of course, the situation may look different if the storm arrived the day after the roofing team abandoned the project instead of several weeks.
The Landlord and The Tenant
Another common example relates to the tenant-landlord relationship. When a tenant enters a lease agreement, it’s generally with the understanding that they will see it through to the end. However, some situations may arise that force the tenant to break the lease.
Typically, if you break a lease, you are responsible for paying the rent due for any time the home is left vacant. However, the law also provides that the landlord must make reasonable efforts to rent the vacated premises to another party. Failure to attempt to re-let the rental could alleviate the amount of rent the tenant has to pay. The landlord must mitigate their damages by seeking a new tenant.
Financing large purchases is common in society, but sometimes people cannot fulfill their obligations. That doesn’t mean a creditor has the right to unreasonably benefit on a default.
For example, somebody finances a new car. They fail to make payments on the vehicle, and the creditor repossesses it. The creditor cannot keep the car and request damages. They have an obligation to try selling the vehicle to regain some of their costs and mitigate their damages.
Proving Failure to Mitigate Damages
Failure to mitigate damages is a common defense. Though it won’t likely prevent the defendant from paying damages altogether, it could reduce the amount for which they are liable. However, the defendant must demonstrate that the plaintiff could reasonably have done something different.
Refusing Medical Treatment
One of the most common examples of mitigating damages involves medical treatment in personal injury cases. When a plaintiff refuses treatment after their injuries or fails to get medical attention altogether, it could be a “failure to mitigate” situation.
For example, a plaintiff sues the person who sped through a red light and crashed into their vehicle. The victim sustained serious injuries in the accident that required treatment. Say the victim refused some treatment, like surgery, that could have lessened the severity of their injuries. In that case, the defendant may not have to pay for the cost of any exacerbated injuries that the plaintiff could have avoided through treatment.
The defendant would need to show that the surgery would have reduced the plaintiff’s pain and suffering or provided them with more function. It’s not a way to absolve the defendant from blame, but more an effort to minimize the amount they pay in damages.
Refusing to Seek Employment
Many plaintiffs seek compensation for lost wages related to an accident. However, if the defendant shows that they had opportunities to find employment and work but failed to follow through, it could reduce their award. Legally, there’s a notable line between being unable to work and refusing to work.
Mitigating damages can be a complicated argument, especially when it comes to proving either side of the issue. It helps to have an experienced attorney on your side to explain the finer points and help you navigate the complexities to achieve the best possible outcome.