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What to Do if You Can’t Work After a Car Accident

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man in bed with crutches cannot work after auto accident

If you are in a car accident that was someone else’s fault, you are entitled to compensation. Medical expenses related to the crash and damage to your vehicle are the first things that come to mind for reimbursement. But what if you can’t work after a car accident? It is possible to receive a settlement for the wages you would have earned if you hadn’t been hurt.

An accident victim might have to miss a few days or weeks of work after a bad wreck. In the worst-case scenario, he or she could be let go entirely. Even if their medical bills are covered, the inability to make a living, even for a short time, can be devastating.

Some insurance policies cover lost wages if you are in a car accident and can’t work. In the unfortunate event that your policy doesn’t cover lost wages, it is best to consult an attorney to see if you have a case against the other driver. You may be able not only to replace your paycheck but receive compensation for potential earnings, too.

Lost Wages

Income lost due to an accident is easy to understand and calculate. If an employee misses his or her shift at work due to an injury, their paycheck will be less than it normally is.

If a worker gets paid sick leave or vacation, they might get paid for the days they can’t show up. This is technically “costing” the employee part of their pay because they might have to use up all of their paid time off for their recovery from an accident that was not their fault. In some cases, it’s possible to recoup payment for those days too.

When seeking damages, an attorney will also look at overtime pay. If, for example, a worker gets an average of five hours a week of overtime pay, it is reasonable to add that amount to the settlement request.

Commissions or bonuses might also figure into a lost wage settlement. Missing work due to an accident might mean falling short of sales quotas that would have earned that extra pay.

Lost Earning Capacity

In some cases, an employee may not be fully recovered but might be well enough to go back to work. Maybe they will eventually regain their previous health and fitness. Or, perhaps they have a life-changing injury.

For example, let’s say that after an accident, an employee needs to use a wheelchair. He or she may not be able to resume work as a forklift driver because of the injuries. The company may, however, find them a new position in the office.

Lost earning capacity means the difference between the salary that someone would be making in their former position, and what they will make in their new position. If in our example, the employee’s new position pays $5,000 less per year, he or she could seek damages for that amount.

Lost Opportunities

Lawsuits that attempt to compensate an accident victim sometimes look at the cost of lost opportunities. Attaching a dollar amount to an opportunity can be tricky. A victim’s attorney needs to make a case that a situation such as a promotion or a new position would likely have happened if the employee had not been injured.

The chances of swaying a jury will depend on the scenario. If, for example, nearly every employee of a company moves up to the next pay grade every three years, it is easy to calculate what the injured party could be making down the line. It will be much harder, however, to claim that he or she would move into a management position in three years, if that isn’t a typical occurrence.

Calculating Losses When You Can’t Work

Figuring lost wages can be a straightforward calculation when an injured party is a full-time employee and the amount of time away from work is known. The more variables in his or her pay and recovery time, the more complicated the computation will be.

Compensation for a part-time worker whose hours vary every week, or who gets inconsistent overtime pay, won’t be as easy to add up. It becomes even more complex with uncertain factors that require speculation, such as commissions or lost opportunities, or if it’s unclear just how long they will need to be absent from work.

Self-employed individuals or those who only work occasionally can reach lost wage settlements. The amount of lost income can be difficult to prove, however. Attorneys will rely on the victim’s documentation of their earnings when the accident occurred to make an estimate of the money they’re missing out on. They may also examine recent tax returns. It will be easier to make a “best guess” if income has been consistent over the past few years.

When lost wage cases go to trial, economic or accounting professionals might be called as expert witnesses. They will look at job market trends and the employee’s work habits, education, and professional track to estimate what dollar amount will be reasonable to compensate for lost wages.

The information presented as “proof” in these trials is understandably speculative, and can be vague. It is often up to the jury to weigh the evidence and decide what amount is due. Some states have limits to the amount allowed in these settlements. In Illinois and Missouri, there is no limit on the lost wages amount that can be awarded.

Proving Losses Due to an Accident

To prove what income has been lost due to injuries suffered in an accident, three types of documentation are required:

  • Police report. The police report is the basis of any claim, as it details the incident. Tickets issued at the scene will indicate who was at fault. The report may also mention specific injuries that were observed by the first responders.
  • Medical records. Any physicians’ reports about injuries and treatment will show the extent of the trauma suffered in the accident. A doctor will indicate why a patient can’t go to work.
  • Employment documentation. Payroll and human resource records will outline the victim’s job and salary. This information will be instrumental in calculating dollar values for lost wages.

Follow Doctor’s Orders

Until an accident victim’s injuries are fully healed, it is best to follow the doctor’s orders and stay away from work. Most companies will require a doctor to put in writing that a patient is well enough to return.

An employee does have the obligation, however, to mitigate damages when it comes to lost wages. This means that when they are released to go back to work, they do so right away. In the event that they were laid off or terminated after their accident, they must do what they can to find employment elsewhere. A settlement for lost wages is meant to pay for the time that an accident victim was unable to work.

If you have lost pay due to a car accident, the attorneys at Hipskind and McAninch would be happy to review your case. A car accident is traumatic enough without the extra worry of lost wages.

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