Written by attorney Keith Curtin Purdue

The Victim's Duty to Mitigate Damages

There are many legal terms that are often unclear, or even unknown, to the general public. However, learning what these terms and phrases mean can often assist an injured victim as they're seeking legal action so that they do not inadvertently cause harm to their own case. For example, duty to mitigate damages is a term that may be used in connection to a personal injury lawsuit. If you've never sought legal action due to an injury caused by another person's negligent behavior, you likely have no frame of reference for this particular legal phrase. However, once broken down, the phrase is simple to understand and may assist you in the event that you ever do suffer a personal injury.

Legal Duties

On the whole, people owe certain legal duties to each other in certain circumstances, and based on certain relationships involved within those circumstances. For example, a doctor owes a specific legal duty to a patient based on their doctor/patient relationship. If that legal duty is violated in any way due to a medical professional's negligent behavior, a patient may seek a medical malpractice lawsuit against their doctor. In regards to the phrase "duty to mitigate damages," an injured plaintiff has a certain legal duty in regards to their incurred injury.

Mitigate simply means "to lessen." Damages do not refer to actual physical damage, but is the legal term for the financial losses that a victim incurs as a result of physical damage. For example, damages are medical bills that arrive as a result of a broken arm. Damages can also be lost wages, compensation for pain and suffering, and other financial losses experienced by an injured victim. Put together, a plaintiff has a legal duty to lessen the amount of financial losses they incur as a result of an injury accident. If a plaintiff fails to mitigate their damages, the compensation they may be awarded may be severely diminished or altogether denied.


For example, suppose that a construction worker suffers a laceration to his foot while at work due to the negligent behavior of a co-worker. Thinking it just a minor flesh wound, he does not seek immediate medical attention. However, the wound becomes worse as the days pass, but the construction worker feels that he cannot take days off from work in order to get the injury checked. After a few weeks, the wound becomes infected. Eventually, the worker is in immense pain and finally seeks medical attention, only to discover that his foot must be amputated. In such an instance, it could be argued that the injured worker failed to mitigate his damages. As a result, he would not be able to seek compensation for the full extent of his injuries, including the amputation, from the negligent entity responsible for his initial cut since he did not seek medical care within a reasonable amount of time. In other words, if the worker had sought medical care within a few days, before the injury became markedly worse, the liable party would have been held accountable for the full extent of the worker's injury.

Such a duty to mitigate damages does not require that an injured person take unreasonable efforts to lessen the extent of their injury. For example, the injured construction worker from the provided example would not have had to stay in an antiseptic room following the accident. He would have only needed to seek proper medical care within a reasonable amount of time.


If you have suffered an injury due to the negligent behavior of another person, be sure to seek medical help within a reasonable amount of time so that your injuries do not worsen due to a failure to seek proper medical assistance. After seeking medical help for your injury, consider contacting an experienced personal injury attorney that can help you seek fair compensation for the damages you've incurred as a result of an injury accident.

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