Legal-Ease: Principles of Defensive Driving in Law

Defensive driving encourages each vehicle driver to avoid accidents, even if the avoidable accident is the fault of the other driver. The idea is that we can and should be more responsible than is possibly required by law, because being responsible avoids unnecessary injury that can be avoided for the good of all.

Likewise, we are constantly trained to protect our private personal identification information, such as passwords and social security numbers, from cyber thieves. If we are a little more open with our information than is prudent and someone steals our information and scams us, that thief is legally liable to pay us for the damages. However, we know that once our personal information is stolen, it is unlikely to be fully restored to its “pre-theft” state. Therefore, we protect our information, although being a little more open with this information is not necessarily illegal.

In real estate, contract, and business contexts, people will sometimes let someone else break a contract, cause harm, or act illegally, even when the innocent person could minimize or eliminate the harm that the wrongdoer would ultimately be responsible.

Real estate, contract, and business law attempts to encourage responsible behavior in two ways, similar to defensive driving, even if someone else is responsible for a problem.

First, the law does not allow a person who has been harmed by another person to delay his claim for compensation in order to increase the extent of the damage. This doctrine is called “laches”, which is pronounced like latches.

The technical definition of cowards is an unreasonable delay in asserting or making a claim against another person in order to increase the size of the claim.

That is, I can notice that my neighbor is obviously building a garage above my property line. I can notice the violation of the property line during the pouring of the garage foundation. Laches is forcing me to at least let my neighbor know relatively soon after I noticed the problem instead of waiting for the whole garage to be built and then suing the neighbor for a lot more money in damages because that the neighbor has a lot more to lose once the garage is fully built.

The second way the law encourages responsible actions akin to defensive driving is the legal responsibility to mitigate or minimize harm. Mitigation of damages is a legal doctrine that requires certain people to reasonably correct or ameliorate someone else’s error or irregularity if given the opportunity.

For example, the landlord of an apartment complex may have a tenant who violates the tenant’s lease by leaving before the end of the lease term and not paying rent after leaving. A landlord in this situation is legally obligated to try to mitigate the deceased tenant’s financial liability by re-renting the tenant’s vacated apartment to another person if another person asks to rent an apartment. Thus, the landlord must re-let the apartment when he has the opportunity, which would reduce or minimize the “lost rent” that the tenant who left in violation would be liable.

Laches and damage mitigation

Lee R. Schroeder is an Ohio licensed attorney at Schroeder Law LLC in Putnam County. He limits his practice to business, real estate, estate planning and agricultural matters in Northwest Ohio. He can be reached at [email protected] or at 419-659-2058. This article is not intended to be used as legal advice, and specific advice should be sought from the licensed attorney of your choice based on the specific facts and circumstances you are facing.