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Novko v. State of New York

    Brief Fact Summary.

    A farmer named Paul Novko (Novko) sued the State of New York for damages due to a spinal injury resulting from a collision with a police officer. The trial court reduced Novko’s damage award due to his failure to mitigate the damages.

    Synopsis of Rule of Law.

    A plaintiff has a duty to mitigate his damages by reducing the effect of the damages as much as possible.

    Facts.

    A farmer named Paul Novko (Novko) suffered spinal injuries when a police car struck him. Novko adjusted his work on the farm to reduce his back pain and Novko sued the State of New York for past and future pain and suffering and loss of earning capacity. Although the trial court found the state of New York liable, the trial court did not award Novko for the loss of earning capacity because he failed to mitigate his damages by taking another job that was less stressful on his spine. The trial court also limited Novko’s pain and suffering to one year because any pain and suffering a year after the incident is due to Novko’s failure to find another job that could accommodate his spinal injuries. Novko appealed.

    Issue.

    Whether a plaintiff has a duty to mitigate his damages by reducing the damages as much as possible.

    Held.

    Yes. Reversed and remanded.

    Discussion.

    Although the lower court stated that Novko should have mitigated his damages by seeking alternative employment opportunities that accommodated his spinal injuries, Novko did mitigate his damages by making adjustments to his farming work to reduce the stress on his injury. It was unreasonable for the lower court to require Novko to take up a new profession as a result of his spinal injury, and there is no confirmation that a different occupation would strain Novko’s back less than the farm work Novko is accustomed to.


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