It happens all the time. You’re talking to the insurance company of the driver that hit you and they tell you that you have a legal duty to mitigate your damages. What does that mean?
Unless you’ve been through this process before, you may believe that since the other driver caused the crash, their insurance company will be responsible for all of the related expenses regardless of how much they are. Unfortunately, that’s not the law. It should come as no surprise that the law is slanted in favor of the insurance companies. After all, they have the money to spend on lobbyists and campaign donations. Thanks to all of their efforts, the law says that insurance companies only responsible for the reasonable expenses caused by the crash.
As if that’s not unfair enough, the law also puts a burden on you – the injured party! The law requires an injured party to use reasonable efforts to avoid or lessen its losses. When it comes to car accidents, this issue usually comes up when talking about tow yard storage fees, medical bills, and lost wages.
If your vehicle was towed from the crash, it will be kept at the tow yard until someone picks it up. Every day that it sits in the yard, you’re racking up storage fees. In a perfect world, the insurance company would complete their investigation and start repairing your car in a matter of days so there are very little charges to pay and they’ll pay all of them. Yeah, right!
The reality is that insurance companies will try to delay the investigation for as long as possible in hopes that you’ll simply give up. If you don’t take the steps to minimize the storage fees, you could be stuck paying for a large chunk of them!
If you have collision coverage with your insurance policy, then the easiest way to protect yourself is to file a claim with your insurance company. Your carrier will pick up your vehicle and either start repairs or evaluate the total loss offer. When making the claim, you’ll be expected to pay your deductible up front, but don’t worry! After the property damage claim is handled, your carrier will go after the other driver to recover their money – including your deductible.
If you don’t have collision coverage, the best way to minimize your losses is to remove the vehicle from the tow yard and store it in your garage or somewhere else until the investigation is complete. Be sure to save your receipts so the other driver’s carrier can reimburse you after all is said and done.
Let me paint a picture.
You’re injured in an accident and have to miss work as a result of your injuries. You’ve never been through this process before and you don’t have an attorney. Your friends and family members warn you that returning to work too soon after a crash might hurt your recovery from the insurance company. You're also worried about getting reimbursed for your medical bills. After all, there is no guarantee that the insurance company will pay you back dollar for dollar what you spent. Not sure what to do, you listen to the advice of those who love you and go to the doctor once or twice and miss work for a few weeks.
Fast forward to your conversation to the insurance adjuster, they ask for a doctor’s note to explain the time that you missed from work or medical records that prove you were experiencing ongoing pain during those weeks. You have neither. You explained that you went to the doctor one time, but that you didn’t go back or receive any other treatment because you were worried about the cost.
Immediately, they tell you that you have a duty to mitigate your damages. In this context, that means getting the medical treatment you need to feel better and returning to work when you’re physically able to do so – even if that means returning on light duty. Now, there is no hope of recovering for the time you missed from work and your bills don’t stop just because you’re in an accident and couldn’t work.
Simply put, the best way to meet your duty to mitigate damages when it comes to your medical bills and lost wages is to take care of yourself. Get the medical treatment you need to recover from your injuries – no more and no less.
Some people get frustrated that physical therapy and chiropractic care often entail multiple visits every week for a few months. Rather than miss works for the appointments or take the time to let the therapy work its course, they stop treatment early. They haven’t recovered. They’re just frustrated with how long it’s taking to feel better. They continue to miss work because they are still in pain only now there aren't any medical records to prove their pain levels or doctor’s notes to excuse that time off of work.
Some people do the complete opposite. They've never been through this process before and they trust their doctors almost to a fault. If their doctor says that they need three months of therapy to fully recover, then they take the three months even though they might be completely pain-free for the last two. In that scenario, the adjuster is going to argue that the last two months of treatment were not necessary because they were not in pain and refuse to pay for the medical bills or lost wages incurred during that time.
As you may have guessed, the insurance company is going to argue against your claim no matter what you do. The best thing you can do to protect yourself is hiring an attorney that has experience dealing with the insurance companies, listening to your body, and getting the medical care that you need - no more and no less.
Without proper guidance and expertise, it is almost impossible to fully protect yourself from the insurance companies. Even with an experienced legal team behind you, it’s an uphill battle. We know the tricks insurance companies use to minimize your claim and we can and will protect you from them.