If you’re injured in an accident where someone else is at fault, you might be tempted to let things slide a bit. After all, you’re not the one who has to pay for that extra day your car sits at the tow yard, right? It might even feel good to try and “run up the bill” on the drunk driver who ran that red light and put you in the hospital. However, the law does not reward that type of behavior.
In California, injured people have a duty to take reasonable steps to limit their injuries and damages. This is because the purpose of tort law, the body of legal rules that governs personal injury situations, is designed to make you whole but not to compensate you for easily avoidable losses. As a result, the law expects you to use ordinary care, where feasible, to minimize the cost of your damages or injuries. You should not attempt to take advantage of the fact that someone else might have to pick up the tab.
For example, if you are in an auto accident and your car window is smashed, you cannot unreasonably leave your vehicle exposed to the elements and still expect the defendant to pay for the water damage to your leather seats. Why? Because your failure to act caused this additional unnecessary cost. Exactly what constitutes unreasonable neglect or delay depends on the specific situation. But you should make appropriate efforts to prevent the situation from becoming any worse than it already is.
Defendants who are responsible for the injuries and damage caused to you or your property may not be liable for damage that is a result of subsequent neglect on your part. Yet, there are some situations where taking action is not possible. For example, if you are hospitalized you may not be in a position to protect your car from water damage. Or you may not have the funds to remove your damaged car from the tow yard or have a place to store it.
Defendants have the burden of proof to establish that you have failed to mitigate your damages, that the damages could have been avoided, and the amount of any additional losses.
While the example above involves damage to your property, the same rules hold for physical injuries. Generally, you may use your own discretion in handling your injuries. However, failing to obtain prompt and appropriate medical care can cost you both in terms of your overall health, delaying your recovery, and again when you are unable to collect avoidably increased damages from the defendant. It is important for you to take reasonable steps to promptly deal with the results of an accident or injury in order to obtain the best possible recovery.