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Mitigation of damages in auto accident cases

In our last post, we made a brief mention of the concept of mitigation of damages in the context of the issue of failure to wear a seatbelt as a way of reducing a plaintiff's recovery of damages. Here we want to expand on the concept of mitigation of damages in the context of personal injury litigation, specifically car accidents.

Mitigation of damages, or the duty to mitigate, refers to legal principle that a defendant may be able to reduce a plaintiff's damages award where the plaintiff acted unreasonably with respect to minimizing their own damages. The idea behind mitigation is that a plaintiff should not be able to hold a defendant responsible for damages which he or she could have taken reasonable steps to prevent. 

After an auto accident, the issue of mitigation can come up in a variety of ways. One way mitigation can apply is with respect to the medical costs associated with the plaintiff's injuries. Failure to seek out medical attention for an injury can lead to complications down the road and additional medical costs--costs that could have been avoided.  Another possibility is when a plaintiff does see a doctor, but refuses to follow medical treatment or advice, perhaps using a less effective alternative form of treatment and which results in greater long-term injuries. All of this can be subjected to scrutiny under the duty to mitigate.

Another possible area where mitigation can apply is with respect to lost wages. An auto accident injury may leave a plaintiff without the ability to work in his or her previous field of employment, but it may still be possible for the plaintiff to obtain employment in another field. A plaintiff who has refused to seek out other legitimate employment may be scrutinized under the duty to mitigate.

Plaintiffs in personal injury cases, of course, generally want to do everything possible to maximize their damages, and it is important to work with an experienced attorney when potential mitigation of damages issues may come up. Ideally, the issue of mitigation is avoided altogether through sound legal advice and appropriate, proactive efforts by the plaintiff. 

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