Loss of Earnings in a Personal Injury Lawsuit
In a personal injury case for something such as a car accident or other mishap, the plaintiff is entitled to collect both non-economic and economic damages. Non-economic damages measure things such as pain and suffering and emotional trauma.
Economic damages are intended to compensate a plaintiff for actual losses that they have suffered. This can include lost wages, medical bills and other medical expenses. When it comes to a wage loss claim, this amount can end up increasing dramatically.
In Illinois, the standard for injured workers is that you are able to show that your injury is permanent and that is prevents you from continuing employment. Antol v. Chavez-Pereda, 284 Ill. App. 3d 561, 573, 672 N.E.2d 320, 329 (1st Dist. 1996).
Loss of Income Factors in Your Personal Injury Case
Here are some factors that will be considered when your future lost wages claim would go to court:
- What were your pre-accident income levels and your history of raises on the job?
- Your job performance evaluations will be looked at for your advancement potential.
- What is your education and training?
- Did you have future plans for advancement based on your credentials and work experience before your permanent disability?
Even if you have only worked for a little bit of time or have never worked at all, you can still claim a high future earnings capacity as an injured person. For example, if you are a college student working towards a degree in an employable field, you can still be paid for future lost earnings, even if you have never held a full-time job.
How to Prove Your Lost Wages Claim as an Injured Party
In order to prove this element of your claim in court, you would need to variety of different things. Here are a few of the things that can establish what you could earn in the future:
- Pay stubs from your most recent job and tax returns to show earning capacity
- Proof of your education and any training certificates you possess
- Expert testimony about your specific field and industry, namely the path of job progression in the field.
- Expert general economic testimony about inflation multipliers that should be applied to future earnings.
- Medical expert testimony to show how long the plaintiff cannot work for and how much work their injury prevents them from doing as well as copies of your medical bills.
- Proof of the value of the fringe benefits that you received from your job because those count as compensation that you have lost.
Other Factors in Your Continuation of Pay Claim
It is important to know that, even if you are still able to continue working at the same job, you may still be entitled to lost future wages as a result of your accident. As a claimant, your injuries could be preventing you from further advancement and promotion on your job.
For example, you may need to take more time off from work in the near and distant future to deal with the effects of your injuries. That may cost you the promotion that you felt that you deserved in the future before your personal injury accident happened.
This would have the effect of reducing your wages. You can still be paid for what you are losing due to your accident. Economic damages are intended to put you in the same exact position as if the accident never happened in the first place. Thus, you could still qualify for future lost wages as an accident victim if you can prove that you are earnings less than you otherwise would have.
Defenses to a Wage Loss Claim in a Personal Injury Lawsuit
Lost wages are one of the areas that is closely contested if your personal injury case goes to trial. The defendant knows that they have to fight hard in trial court because a ruling against them can lead to a large payment.
The other side will likely raise several different defenses to your claim for future lost wages. The first thing they will try to do is to argue that you are still able to work in your current job. Even if you are unable to work right now, you will have the ability to return to work in the near-future. Thus, even if you could get payment for lost wages, it should be limited to a certain time-frame.
In some cases, it is very obvious that you can never go back to your old job. For example, if your leg was crushed in a construction accident, it is highly unlikely that you could ever return to a job that required physical labor.
In these cases, the defendant will argue that you have the ability to do some kind of work even if it is not the same amount of work. Of course, that assumes that you have the ability and the capacity to be re-trained in a field in which you have never worked. Nonetheless, the defense will contend that the value of your lost wages award should be reduced by the amount that you could theoretically earn in another job.
Finally, the defendant will contest the actual amount of lost wages that you claim you deserve. Realistically, your earnings today should be adjusted by a multiplier to account for both inflation as well as your advancing experience as time passes. An experienced worker earns more than an entry-level employee. The defense attorney will try to use every trick and argument possible to keep down the calculation of your future wages.
The defendant will likely have experts of their own who reach different conclusions than your expert witnesses. They will be arguing that you should either not be paid future wages or that your recovery should be minimal.
Limitation on Your Personal Injury Claim
One important thing to remember is that, even after your future lost wages are established in a lawsuit, they will still be reduced to account for present value of money. In other words, if you were to receive every penny today that you would have gotten in the future, you would be receiving a windfall.
Accordingly, the court will apply some sort of factor that reduced your settlement or award to the present day value of what you would have earned in the future.
The other factor that could limit what you would recover would be the fact that you will only be paid lost wages until the age of retirement. The age until you would have worked will be another point of dispute between the plaintiff and defendant. Your lost wages award may also be subject to income taxes or reduced to reflect vacation time.