A car accident can have several catastrophic outcomes that range from the physical to the financial. In fact, because of the physical and emotional devastation that car accidents often cause, it is not uncommon for victims to be unable to return to work for days, weeks, months or even years after the incident. If your accident is severe enough to render you disabled and unable to return to work — or unable to return to work in a normal capacity — you may wonder if you can recover lost wages either via insurance or a car accident lawsuit. In most cases, the answer is yes. However, the amount you can recover depends on several factors, which an experienced personal injury attorney can use to influence an award or settlement in your favor.
According to one study, the average number of lost workdays per person per year for all types of non-fatal injuries was 11 days. This amounted to an average income loss, per person, of $1,590. However, per the study, some types of accidents result in more lost workdays than others, with motorcycle injuries resulting in as many as 44.1 lost workdays — or an annual loss of $6,196. People who sustain traumatic brain injuries miss an average of 19.8 days of work after the triggering incident, for a total loss of approximately $2,787.
It is important to note that these averages are just that — averages. You stand to gain significantly more or less than the average depending on the severity of your injury and the extent to which it renders you unable to work. A skilled car accident attorney can assess your case, inform you of the factors that affect compensation for lost wages and do what it takes to recover the maximum amount of remuneration.
Just how much you may recover in lost wages depends largely on how much you earned, on average, pre-injury, how you received payment (whether on a salary or hourly basis), and whether you are self-employed or employed. Below are standard ways to calculate lost income based on your employment status.
Calculating lost wages as an hourly worker is fairly easy. To recover the full amount the defendant owes you, take your hourly wage and multiply it by the number of work hours you missed because of your injury. For instance, if you earn $50 per hour and miss 200 hours of work, you can recover $10,000 in lost wages.
If you are a salaried employee, calculating your lost wages is a bit more complex than multiplying the number of hours of missed work by your hourly rate. To determine how much the defendant owes you, divide your annual salary by 2,080, which is the standard number of work hours that Americans work each year. You would then multiply the quotient by the number of work hours you missed because of your injuries. Below is an example of what this would look like if you make $100,000 per year and missed 200 hours of work because of the accident:
$100,000 / 2,080 = $48.10
$48.10 x 200 = $9,620
If you are a sole proprietor, contractor, freelancer or some other type of self-employed worker, you will want to claim “lost income” as opposed to “lost wages.” Lost income is much more difficult to calculate than lost wages, especially if your income fluctuates from year to year, as it so often does for the self-employed.
Regardless of what type of work you do or who you do it for, you will need to show proof of income. However, as a self-employed person, adequate proof of income for the past couple of years can go a long way toward helping you recover the maximum amount of damages for lost income. Though a skilled car accident attorney can help you gather the appropriate documentation and build a strong case, types of documentation you should begin to gather sooner rather than later include 1099 forms, invoices, receipts, Schedule Cs and previous years’ tax returns.
If your injury is severe enough to put you out of work for any length of time, it is important that you fully understand your rights under the law so that you do not unwittingly forfeit money that the defendant otherwise owes you. In addition to compensation for the days you missed work during your recovery, the law also entitles you to the following:
Proving certain types of damages such as loss of earning capacity and loss of future earnings is difficult and will likely require the cooperation of both your medical and legal teams. Your lawyer may also hire an economic or financial expert witness who can compare your past earnings with your projected future earnings had you not become disabled to come up with a ballpark figure of your total future losses.
It is not uncommon for accident victims to use sick leave or vacation pay as a substitute for their income during their periods of recovery. If you used this tactic to cover the costs of living while you were unable to work, know that the law entitles you to claim that lost time as lost wages. Lawmakers are of the mindset that accident victims should not have to use their benefits — which they rightfully earned — to pay for the cost of other parties’ mistakes. In essence, the law considers using up vacation pay, sick time and other benefits simply to recover from an accident the same as losing the pay itself.
It is not enough to state that your injuries render you incapable of working. You must also demonstrate to the courts that you worked and earned a consistent income before your accident. The best way to do this is by providing proof of wages via recent paychecks, the previous year’s tax returns, 1099s, invoices, Schedule Cs, bank statements and other formal documentation. The courts may also require proof that you did not recently quit your job or receive a notice of termination, which will likely require you to seek a notarized letter from your current employer.
If you sustained an injury in a motor vehicle accident that has caused you to miss any number of days of work, it does not hurt to consult with a knowledgeable car accident attorney. The right lawyer can assess your situation, identify to which damages the law entitles you and help you pursue your options and a full monetary recovery. Consulting with an attorney will cost you nothing, but it may be just what you need to do to secure financial security in the aftermath of your injury.