Even if you are the victim of a personal injury, a workplace injury, or employment discrimination, the law imposes duties upon you, such as the duty to mitigate damages. If you fail to uphold this duty, the amount of compensation you receive can be severely limited.
Continue reading to learn more about this duty and how it may apply to your case.
What Are Damages?
For example, Pennsylvania law states that damages from a wrongful death case may include:
- Hospital expenses
- Nursing care
- Medical expenses
- Funeral expenses
- Administration expenses required because of injuries that caused the death
In personal injury cases, your damages may include your lost wages, loss of earning capacity, out-of-pocket costs, and mental anguish. The maximum compensation you can receive in a case is usually the sum of all the damages you sustained.
What Is the Duty to Mitigate Damages?
When someone claims a right to receive damages after an accident or injury, the law imposes a duty on them to mitigate their damages.
According to Pennsylvania case law, the claimant must make “reasonable efforts to mitigate [their] losses,” meaning that someone who has suffered damages has to take reasonable steps to reduce the amount of damages they suffer.
Claimants are generally not entitled to recover damages from a defendant that could have been avoided by exercising reasonable care and effort.
What Are Some Examples of Mitigating Damages?
Here are a few examples of this principle in action:
- Personal injury – Angel is injured in a car accident on his way to work. Angel sees a doctor who recommends that he stay home from work for two weeks and not exercise. Angel has a duty to follow his doctor’s advice so that he does not make his injury worse.
- Employment discrimination – Heather believes that she was terminated for a discriminatory reason. Heather is offered another job with the same pay as her old job. Heather might be unable to reject the job offer to claim a more extended period of lost wages.
- Workers’ compensation – Drew is injured at work. Her typical job is very strenuous, and she cannot perform the job requirements because of her injuries. Her doctor clears her for light duty, so Drew must complete the work she is able to perform. This would result in her receiving a portion of her former wages and a reduction of her workers’ compensation benefits.
The principle of the duty to mitigate damages is that plaintiffs should not expect a windfall when they can reasonably reduce the amount of damages.
Proving Failure to Mitigate Damages
For the defendant to raise this particular defense, they must be able to show:
- The specific reasonable actions the plaintiff could have taken to mitigate damages
- Those actions would have reduced damages
- The amount those actions would have reduced damages
When evaluating this argument, a court must consider whether the plaintiff’s actions were reasonable considering all the facts and circumstances.
What Happens If the Plaintiff Failed to Mitigate Damages?
Failure to mitigate damages is an affirmative defense. A defendant can claim this defense once they are sued. A failure to mitigate damages does not generally eliminate the plaintiff’s right to bring forth a case or to recover some damages. However, the amount of compensation the plaintiff may be able to recover could be reduced by the amount of losses that could have been avoided.
Suppose Carl suffered employment discrimination and was wrongfully terminated from his job. He makes $750 each pay period. If he prevails with his claim, he may be able to recover the value of back pay.
After four pay periods, Carl is offered a similar job with the same pay. He refuses the job. He demands compensation for all of his back pay as part of his employment discrimination claim, which includes ten pay periods of $750. Carl’s employer could argue that he had a duty to mitigate damages and that he could have accepted the alternative job.
If this defense is successful, Carl’s claim for back pay of $7,500 (10 pay periods x $750) may be reduced to $3,000 (4 pay periods x $750). The burden would then fall on Carl to show why it would not have been reasonable to accept the alternative job.