Williams v. Bright

230 A.D.2d 548, 658 N.Y.S.2d 910 (App. Div. 1997)



A party who claims to have suffered damage by the tort of another is bound to use reasonable and proper efforts to make the damage as small as practicable, and if an injured party allows the damages to be unnecessarily enhanced, the incurred loss justly falls upon him.


The passenger suffered injuries in an automobile accident where the driver fell asleep on the wheel. The injuries, if not alleviated by well recognized and universally accepted surgical procedures, gave her a prognosis for a wheelchair-bound life. All experts agreed that the surgical intervention available to the passenger offered her the prospect of a good recovery and a near normal life. The passenger, a devout Jehovah's Witness, presented proof that she was obliged to refuse these recommended surgeries because her church prohibited the blood transfusions they would necessarily entail. The passenger filed for damages for personal injuries against the driver of the automobile. The trial court acquainted the jury with the existence of the reasonably prudent person pattern jury instruction on the subject of damage mitigation, but abandoned the reasonable person test in favor of a reasonable Jehovah's Witness standard. Damages were awarded. On appeal to the Supreme Court of New York, the driver raised the issue of the trial court's treatment of the passenger's alleged failure to mitigate damages due to her religious beliefs as a Jehovah's Witness.


Was it proper for the court to use a reasonable Jehovah's Witness standard?




The court held that the state must not endorse religion or any particular religious practice, and remanded the matter for a new trial. The court held that the pattern jury instruction must be supplemented with the reasonable believer charge and that the court was not to permit the introduction of any theological proof as to the validity of religious doctrine, nor issue any instructions whatsoever on that score.

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