Injured Plaintiffs Must Mitigate Their Damages

September 2, 2019

In Pennsylvania — and in other jurisdictions throughout the country — injured plaintiffs must act responsibly in the wake of an accident to ensure that their personal injury claims are preserved to the fullest possible extent.  Plaintiffs are not entitled to negligently allow their losses to accumulate without taking action.  There is a broad “duty to mitigate” that requires that plaintiffs exert reasonable efforts to minimize their losses.

Comparative Negligence in Pennsylvania

Pennsylvania applies comparative negligence principles that allow an injured plaintiff to recover damages as compensation for their various losses, but only if the plaintiff is less negligent than the at-fault defendant.

How does this work?

Suppose, for example, that you have been injured in a car accident, and your damages total to $100,000.  You were also speeding at the time of the accident, however.  The court determines that you were 30 percent at fault for your injuries.  Despite your own significant contribution of negligence, you would be entitled to recover the remaining 70 percent of the damages ($70,000).  You should also note that even if the fault is deemed to be 50/50, you may still recover damages. On the other hand, if you were deemed 51 percent at fault, then you would not be entitled to recover any damages.

In a personal injury lawsuit, the duty to mitigate is fundamentally linked to the application of comparative negligence principles.  Failure to adequately mitigate damages (in the wake of an accident) constitutes negligence and depending on the extent of such failure, it might be substantial enough to bar recovery altogether.

Plaintiffs Have a Duty to Mitigate

All plaintiffs have a duty to make reasonable efforts to mitigate their damages.

For example, imagine that you have been injured in an accident, but you do not seek immediate medical attention.  The injury worsens, leading to a debilitating condition with permanent effects on your mobility.  Had you sought immediate medical attention, however, the injury may have been treatable and the exacerbated effects would have been prevented.

The delay in seeking proper medical attention following the accident would likely constitute a failure to mitigate damages and would reduce (or possibly bar) damage recovery in a lawsuit.

Though the duty to mitigate is frequently associated with medical treatment and rehabilitation, it’s important to note that this duty is not specific to injury mitigation.  The duty to mitigate applies to a range of losses that include wage loss, loss of future earning capacity, pain and suffering, quality of life deterioration, and more.  Failure to exert reasonable efforts to find alternative employment would also be a violation of the duty to mitigate and would likely reduce your damage recovery with respect to wage loss and loss of future earning capacity.

What is “Reasonable” in the Context of Mitigation?

Whether the plaintiff’s efforts are “reasonable” depends on the circumstances.  An injured plaintiff is not expected to go through extraordinary efforts to mitigate their damages — for example, you are not required to go back to school and obtain another degree so that you can compete for alternative employment.

Still, you are required to act for your own benefit to minimize your total losses.  If you act in a way that appears to be expectant of a damage award in a lawsuit (for example, if you rack up unjustifiable expenses without exercising a degree of caution), then the court is more likely to consider your efforts to mitigate inadequately.

If you have been injured in an accident due to the fault of another person (or entity), then it’s worth contacting an experienced Pennsylvania personal injury attorney for further assistance with your claims.