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Mitigation of Damages in Lost Profits Calculations

Posted on March 24, 2018 by Richard Pollack

Berkowitz Pollack Brant directors Richard A. Pollack and Scott Bouchner were invited to join experts in the fields of accounting, economics, finance and law to write a chapter for a recently published guidebook about lost profits, damages and business valuations. Here is an excerpt of their contribution to “Lost Profits Damages: Principles, Methods, and Applications”, which Quickreads and The National Association of Certified Valuators and Analysts (NACVA) calls “a must have for aspiring and experienced lost profits damages experts.”

 To order a copy of “Lost Profits Damages: Principles, Methods, and Applications”, visit http://www.valuationproducts.com/lostprofits/.

 Mitigation of Damages in Lost Profits Calculations

 The concept of mitigation of damages pertains to the legal principle that an injured party cannot recover damages that it could have otherwise avoided with reasonable effort. As discussed in the Restatement (Second) of Contracts,

  1. Except as stated in Subsection (2), damages are not recoverable for loss that the injured party could have avoided without undue risk, burden or humiliation.
  2.  The injured party is not precluded from recovery by the rule stated in Subsection (1) to the extent that he has made reasonable but unsuccessful efforts to avoid loss.[1]

Like breach of contract actions, this principle of mitigation is similarly applicable in tort cases, as discussed in Restatement (Second) of Torts.

  1. Except as stated in Subsection (2), one injured by the tort of another is not entitled to recover damages for any harm that he could have avoided by the use of reasonable effort or expenditure after the commission of the tort.
  2.  One is not prevented from recovering damages for a particular harm resulting from a tort if the tortfeasor intended the harm or was aware of it and was recklessly disregardful of it, unless the injured person with knowledge of the danger of the harm intentionally or heedlessly failed to protect his own interests. [2]

Contrary to common understanding, there is no absolute “duty to mitigate” as an affirmative obligation. While the failure to do so could result in a reduction of the damage award, establishing liability and determining the gross damages award are not dependent upon the plaintiff’s efforts to mitigate. The plaintiff is required to act in good faith and take appropriate actions to overcome the damages purported caused by the defendant.[3]

Also referred to as the avoidable consequences doctrine, mitigation “finds its application in virtually every type of case in which the recovery of a money judgment or award is authorized.”[4]

The implications of mitigation in the computation of lost profits, however, are often overlooked or underappreciated by the damages expert. Plaintiff’s expert may focus upon analyzing plaintiff’s economic profits “but for” the alleged wrongdoing by defendant while substantially accepting plaintiff’s “actual” earnings as recorded for past damages computations or as projected for future damages calculations. Likewise, defendant’s expert may concentrate on rebutting the “but for” projections of plaintiff’s expert while also paying little attention to plaintiff’s recorded or projected post-injury economic profits. In contrast, the concept of mitigation is directed toward an analysis of whether plaintiff’s actual post-injury net economic profits could or should have been greater had plaintiff reasonably mitigated its losses. If so, plaintiff’s lost profits damages will be less when measured as the difference between the “but for” and successful mitigation-adjusted “actual” returns than if the mitigation adjustments were not performed. There may be circumstances, however, where the plaintiff’s efforts to mitigate its damages are unsuccessful, which could result in an increase in damages.

To the extent that the defendant is able to demonstrate that the plaintiff could have avoided or limited its damages by taking reasonable actions, it may be possible to reduce or eliminate the defendant’s obligation to pay for damages suffered by the plaintiff. Conversely, if challenged, the plaintiff should be able to offer evidence as to whether it was possible to mitigate its losses, what the costs of such mitigation efforts would have been relative to the potential benefits, what attempts, if any, were made to avoid losses caused by the defendant, and what were the results of these efforts. While the parties’ damages experts often address these issues, they may be better addressed in some instances directly by or in concert with industry experts and fact witnesses.

 

About the Authors: Richard A. Pollack, CPA/ABV/CFF/PFS, ASA, CBA, CFE, CAMS, CIRA, CVA, is director-in-charge of Berkowitz Pollack Brant’s Forensic and Business Valuation Services practice. Scott Bouchner, CMA, CVA, CFE, CIRA, is a director with the practice. Both professionals have served as litigation consultants, expert witnesses, court-appointed experts and forensic investigators on a number of high-profile cases. They can be reached at the CPA firm’s Miami office as (305) 379-7000 or via email at info@bpbcpa.com.

 

ENDNOTES

[1] Restatement (Second) of Contracts § 350. St. Paul, Minn: American Law Institute, (1981)

[2] Restatement (Second) of Torts § 918. St. Paul, Minn: American Law Institute, (1977); See also National Communications Assoc. v. AT&T, 93 Civ. 3707 (LAP) (New York 2001) (which states that “A plaintiff who fails to take reasonable steps to avoid the alleged loss ‘has broken the chain of causation, and loss resulting to him thereafter is suffered through his own act[; i]t is not damage that has been caused by the wrongful act of the [defendant]”), citing McClelland v. Climax Hosier Mills, 252 N.Y. 347, 359, 169 N.E. 605, 609-10 (New York 1930)

[3] See Restatement (Second) of Contracts § 350 (1981), which states “It is sometimes said that it is the “duty” of the aggrieved party to mitigate damages, but this is misleading because he incurs no liability for his failure to act. The amount of loss that he could reasonably have avoided by stopping performance, making substitute arrangements or otherwise is simply subtracted from the amount that would otherwise have been recoverable as damages.” Also see In re Std. Jury Instructions-Contract & Bus. Cases, 116 So. 3d 284, (Supreme Court of Florida 2013), which states that “[t]here is no actual ‘duty to mitigate,’ because the injured party is not compelled to undertake any ameliorative efforts.”

[4] See Sedgwick on Damages, 9th ed., sec.204, p. 390; 15 Am. Jur., sec. 27, p. 420; 25 C.J.S., Damages, sec. 33, p. 499.

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