Mitigation of Damages in Car Accident Cases
This guide is about an injured party's duty to mitigate damages after a car crash. Many insurance adjusters will bring up this duty but often will misunderstand or misstate your obligations. It frequently comes up when you make a claim for property damage to your car.
You have a duty to mitigateThis means if you have suffered an injury you have a duty to act reasonably to prevent your injury from becoming worse. Your duty is to act as a "reasonable person" would under the same set of circumstances.
The duty requires you to limit the extent of your injuryIf you have the means to reduce the injury you suffer you need to do it. For example, if you use your car for work, but can't use your car for this after a crash you are probably losing potential earnings. You have a claim for the lost earnings. But you have a duty to find another way to earn money. You might be able to rent a car to use, then your claim would be for the cost of the rental rather than the lsot earnings. If a court finds you failed to mitigate your damages than the rental cost is the most you'll be able to recover in court.
The duty depends on your circumstancesIn the example above, if you can afford to rent a car you need to do it. But maybe you cannot afford a rental without going into debt or the rental car company won't let you use a rental for work purposes. In those circumstances, you still can claim your lost earnings as damages. You do not have a duty to mitigate if it is not reasonably possible for you to do so.
Another example of a situation where you do not have to mitigate your damages would be if the repair shop tells you that it will take two days or fix your car but then ends up taking two weeks. It might not make sense to rent a car for only two days. Under those circumstances, you acted reasonably by relying on the estimate from the repair shop.
To fail to mitigate damages your actions must be negligentWashington law is clear that you are held to the same standard as the person who hit you: to avoid acting negligently. You are not penalized for being put in a difficult situation or not choosing the course of action that results in the lowest payment from the person who hit you. The ultimate question is whether your choice was negligent. This takes into account that you may not know the outcome when you make the decision and that you may not be aware of certain options.
For example, if your doctor tells you that surgery is an option, but it is risky and may or may not actually solve the problem. It is a reasonable choice for you to choose not to have the surgery, even though you will be in more pain (and entitled to more compensation for pain and suffering). There outcome is uncertain and the law does not require that you make one choice over the other.