Plaintiffs in personal injury lawsuits typically sue to get compensated for all the consequences of their injuries, like medical expenses, lost wages, or pain and suffering. The law calls these consequences “damages.” Nevada law requires injured people to take reasonable steps to limit their damages, and protects otherwise at-fault defendants from having to compensate plaintiffs who fail to do so. Understanding the duty to mitigate damages is important for anyone who has been injured and is considering legal action.
Mitigation means taking action
A plaintiff in a Nevada personal injury lawsuit can’t recover for damages that he or she could have avoided by exercising reasonable care. Southern Pacific Transportation Co. v. Fitzgerald, 94 Nev. 241 (1978). This duty to mitigate damages comes in two flavors. On the one hand, a plaintiff needs to take reasonable steps to address the damages associated with the injury. For example, a plaintiff who refuses necessary medical treatment can’t expect to get compensated for the resulting further complications. Although the plaintiff may have had personal reasons for refusing the surgery, the defendant isn’t required to pay for the plaintiff’s objectively unreasonable choice.
On the other hand, a plaintiff also can’t expect to recover for actions that make the damages worse. For example, Nevada law won’t compensate an injured person for disregarding a doctor’s instructions for recovery after a surgery. The plaintiff will have to bear the costs of going dancing on a healing foot that was broken by the defendant’s negligence.
The importance of the reasonable care standard
The duty to mitigate damages is not absolute. The plaintiff is only required to have taken reasonable care to reduce the defendant’s liability. Exactly what meets the definition of “reasonable” is an objective standard that largely depends on the facts of the case. For example, the Nevada Supreme Court has held that refusing an elective surgical procedure can be reasonable under the right circumstances. Automatic Merchandisers v. Ward, 98 Nev. 282, 284 (1982). Such arguments can be close, depending on how the attorneys involved organize facts, use expert testimony, and respond to counterarguments.
How the duty to mitigate damages can affect compensation
The duty to mitigate damages protects defendants from having to compensate plaintiffs for the consequences of an injury that might have otherwise been avoided but for the plaintiff’s choice or neglect. It comes up at the damages phase of a trial, when the defendant asks the court to reduce the plaintiff’s award to the extent the plaintiff didn’t satisfy his or her duty to mitigate damages.
Courts calculate the value of a plaintiff’s failure to mitigate damages by examining the facts of the case. Sometimes a particular chunk of damages is easily attributable to the plaintiff’s behavior. For example, a plaintiff who refuses to look for work might be denied compensation for lost wages. But in other cases, the plaintiff’s actions may have contributed to only part of the damages, in which case the court may reduce the defendant’s liability by a percentage.
In personal injury cases, experience matters
For over 45 years, the attorneys at GGRM have taken a personal approach to every client’s personal injury case. Part of our obligation to clients is helping them avoid making choices that could reduce their final compensation. If you have been injured and would like to talk to an attorney about your next steps, please reach out to us today for a free consultation. We’re reachable at 702-388-4476, or through our contact page.