If you recently got hurt in a serious accident, can you recover lost wages by filing a personal injury claim? In short, the answer is yes. Lost wages, along with the cost of your medical care and your pain and suffering, are the main damage components of a personal injury claim. The way we prove how much you’re entitled to in terms of your lost wages is to work with your medical providers using medical records and narrative reports, depositions if necessary, to explain why it was that the nature of your injuries prevented you from returning to your type of work for as long as it took.
How Does the Court Award Damages, Including Lost Wages?
Generally speaking, a plaintiff in a personal injury lawsuit can be entitled to two different types of compensatory damages:
- Economic damages, which are designed to compensate a victim for objective economic losses such as medical bills, prescription medications, and lost wages; and
- Non-economic damages, which are designed to compensate a victim for more subjective losses such as pain and suffering or loss of enjoyment of life.
For an injured plaintiff seeking to file a lost wages claim, this is the good news: economic damages are far less controversial than non-economic damages. While California law permits an injury victim to obtain both economic and non-economic damages, the former tend to be less contentious simply because they involve objective financial losses. Specifically, California Civil Code Section 1431.2 defined economic damages as “objectively verifiable monetary losses,” while non-economic damages are defined as “subjective, non-monetary losses.”
Since lost wages clearly fall within the realm of “objectively verifiable monetary losses,” a jury will not have to debate about what the amount should be. Instead, you will present clear evidence of your wage loss, and if you win your case, the jury will be able to award you that specific amount in compensatory damages.
Past and Future Lost Earnings in a California Personal Injury Lawsuit
If you got hurt in an accident that has left you unable to work, you can be eligible for lost wages, which you were unable to earn because of time you had to take off from work in order to obtain medical attention and/or to recover from your injuries. Typically, we think of these lost wages and past lost earnings—these are earnings that you have already lost as a result of your injuries. But this is not the only way in which you can seek lost wages. Indeed, plaintiffs in personal injury lawsuits who are unlikely to return to work—or are only able to return to work in a limited capacity—can also seek future lost earnings.
For instance, imagine that you suffered debilitating injuries that have left you fully and permanently disabled. As a result, you are unable to work at any job in the future. Or, alternately, imagine that you still suffered a debilitating injury, and it has also left you permanently disabled, but it is only a partial disability. In this case, you may be able to return to your job in certain capacities, but you are not able to work at the same level, or to the full extent, as before the injury. In either case, the injury also resulted in the loss of future wages since you no longer have the same earning capacity. In both situations, the injury prevented you from earning your previous wages in the future. And sometimes juries will award future lost earnings that account for decades of lost work.
Proving Lost Wages and Recovering Damages
Jury instructions for awarding wage loss damages differ depending upon whether the jury is considering past lost wages or future lost wages:
- To be eligible to receive damages for past lost earnings, the plaintiff must prove the amount of income, earnings, salary, or wages that she or he has lost to date.
- To be eligible to receive damages for future lost earnings, the plaintiff must prove the amount of income, earnings, salary, or wages that he or she will be reasonably certain to lose in the future as a result of the injury.
California law emphasizes that, in order to recover future lost wages, a plaintiff typically must be able to provide “evidence to show such a degree of probability of their occurring as amounts to a reasonable certainty that they will result from the original injury.” A California personal injury lawyer can discuss your options for proving the likelihood of your future wages.
In terms of the length of time that future lost wages can provide for, the California Supreme Court has emphasized that personal injury plaintiffs can receive damages for “prospective earnings for the balance of his life expectancy at the time of his injury undiminished by any shortening of that expectancy as a result of the injury.” In other words, a plaintiff is entitled to future lost wages for the balance of her life expectancy as if the accident had not occurred. For instance, if a plaintiff’s remaining life expectancy prior to an accident was 40 years, but the injuries she sustained in the accident lowered her life expectancy to 20 years, she is entitled to future lost wages based on the 40-year life expectancy balance.
Frequently Asked Questions About Lost Wages in Personal Injury Cases
Some people ask whether or not they’re still entitled to recover lost wages if they’ve continued to collect their pay by the use of sick leave or vacation pay. The answer is yes. The person who caused your injuries doesn’t get the benefit of your hard-earned sick leave and vacation pay.
Another question that I typically hear is: What happens if I’m returned to a lighter-duty job that doesn’t pay me as much?. You’re still entitled to a wage loss claim that will make you recover the full amount you would have earned, both in benefits and wages, if this accident hadn’t happened. Either way we will make sure you have everything coming to you in terms of a wage loss claim.
Contact a California Personal Injury Lawyer
When another party’s negligence or harmful actions causes an accident or otherwise results in severe personal injuries, the injury victim should not have to bear the financial repercussions. While the most immediate concern often revolves around paying substantial medical bills, being unable to work can be debilitating. By speaking with a San Jose personal injury lawyer and filing a lost wages claim, you can seek the financial compensation you deserve. Contact GJEL Accident Attorneys to learn more.