Last week, the Delaware Supreme Court affirmed a trial court’s award of $10,000 to a plaintiff in a rear-end auto accident case. The issue in the case was the amount of the award, which was made by way of additur or after a motion for a new trial. Plaintiff argued that the $10,000 was insufficient, but the Delaware Supreme Court ruled that the plaintiff’s failure to mitigate his damages justified the amount.
At trial, the jury had returned a verdict finding negligence on the part of the at-fault driver, but awarded zero to the plaintiff, who then filed a motion for a new trial with the trial court. Judge Butler of the Superior Court denied the motion but awarded $10,000 to the plaintiff. See Rash v. Moczulski, (April 25, 2016 Del. Super.).
Mitigating Damages in Delaware Car Accident Cases
This recent case is a prime example of the how the concept of mitigating damages comes into play in Delaware auto injury cases. Defendants in any personal injury case will raise the issue when there is any evidence that the plaintiff failed to follow medical advice, such as failing to follow up with a doctor’s recommendation or failing to complete a course of treatment.
At trial, the defense argued that the plaintiff had failed to mitigate his damages by failing to complete recommended treatment for various injuries including a head injury, tinnitus, and TMJ (temporomandibular joint) dysfunction.
The plaintiff’s doctors recommended specific treatment for the TMJ, head injury and tinnitus. However, evidence at trial showed that the plaintiff completed an evaluation for the TMJ treatment, which he testified helped, but he did not complete the recommended treatment because of time constraints. The treatment interfered with work and home duties.
The jury was instructed in accordance with Delaware Civil Jury Instruction 22.4 Mitigation of Damages:
If you find that Mr. Rash failed to undergo reasonable medical treatment to reduce his damages, or that he failed to follow reasonable medical advice, then any damages resulting from that failure are not the responsibility of [defendants] and should not be included in your award.
In his opinion, the trial judge noted that the plaintiff did not offer sufficient proof of his damages, “Here, the jury found that Plaintiff had failed to prove up whatever damages he may have suffered aside from those he failed to mitigate. The Court will not award a ‘re-do’.” The court further noted that the plaintiff had failed to offer any concrete evidence of his medical treatment bills, which he sought compensation for.
With its verdict, the jury found that the plaintiff had failed to mitigate his damages by not completing treatment. While Delaware courts often grant new trials where a jury awards zero to a plaintiff, the trial court refused to do so. The evidence showed that the plaintiff failed to mitigate his damages, but because there was at least some injury, he was only entitled to a sum of $10,000. The Delaware Supreme Court agreed in its December 15, 2016 ruling.
The Rash case is a reminder of how important it is for plaintiffs in auto accident cases in Delaware to comply with reasonable medical advice and treatment. Failure to do so increases the chances of losing the case at trial or receiving zero or minimal damage awards.
For more info, visit our Delaware car accident injury law library.
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