Lost Wages: What to do after an Auto Accident?

How to Handle Lost Wages

Lost Income is Recoverable

If you have been injured and missed work as the result of a car accident, there is good news. The at-fault driver’s insurance will pay you for your lost wages (even if you use vacation or sick days). The bad news is (much like our discussion on medical bills and rental cars) it just might not be at the end of the month when you need it.

Who pays for the work I miss after my auto accident?

One morning traveling to your next appointment after grabbing a coffee from Exchange Co., you are rear-ended on Fairview Road in Simpsonville, SC and pushed into another car.

By the time EMS arrives, the pain in your neck is intense, and they transport you to Hillcrest Hospital. After evaluating you and reviewing your x-rays and MRI, the Emergency Room doctors release you with instructions to follow up with your primary care physician.

The next week the pain does not diminish, and when you finally see your primary care doctor, the pain is now radiating down your right arm. At that appointment, the doctor diagnoses you with cervical radiculopathy, and they prescribe nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs and physical therapy.

At your initial physical therapy session (two weeks after your wreck), your therapist designs a six-week treatment program of two to three rehabilitation sessions a week. In addition to the rehab sessions, the therapist also prescribes a home-exercise program and ice for pain management.

When you leave that first session, you are relieved to have a plan of recovery, but you are also overwhelmed by the work you will have to miss. And when the mortgage, power, cable, and water bills arrive the following week, you are left to wonder, “Who pays for the work I missed after my auto accident?”

What types of income or compensation are recoverable?

The loss of income following an injury is a proper element of compensation for a court to consider. Courts make a distinction between earnings lost before trial and income lost in the future, and they generally break them down using the following terminology:

  1. Lost wages
  2. Loss of earning capacity, future earnings, or earning power

What are lost wages?

The term “lost wages” refers to the money or income that you did not earn because of the accident. Put another way, they are the wages that you lost as a result of your injuries.

For example, if you miss eight weeks of work, you are entitled to recover from the at-fault driver eight weeks worth of income or wages. This recovery not only consists of the work you missed before your physician released you to return to work, but it also includes of any days you miss traveling to and from your medical providers after your physician released you to return to work.

And one of the more overlooked items, the recovery also includes any vacation or sick days that you may have used.

Therefore, if you were employed at the time of the accident, you are entitled to recover the reasonable value of the income, including any benefits, you lost because of your injuries. But when seeking recovery of your lost wages, great care must be taken to avoid the appearance of overreaching.

Remember, the goal should be to restore yourself, through the payment of money, to the same position you were before the accident occurred and not a double recovery.

What is lost earning capacity?

In addition to “lost wages,” you may also recover future losses in earnings caused by the defendant. Courts refer to this as “lost earning capacity.”

Put simply, “lost earning capacity” refers to the decrease in your ability to earn income in the future.

Loss of earning capacity is one of the more difficult items to establish, and in South Carolina, the amount of damages recoverable depends on several factors, including whether the injury caused by the at-fault driver is temporary or permanent and (as crazy as it sounds) your life expectancy.

If you or someone you know is involved in an accident that caused a disability, permanent injury, or the person not to be able to return to the same job, there may be a claim for lost earning capacity. This type of claim is established through a detailed analysis of your life, which might include:

  • Evidence of what you previously earned, but (unlike lost wages) it is not required that you were employed at the time of the injury to recover
  • Loss of future earning power related to the impairment
  • Your mental and physical ability to maintain yourself and your family before the injury compared to your condition after the injury
  • The impact the injury and impairment will have on your capacity to work, including any pain and suffering that might result
  • Evaluation of your talents, skills, education, and abilities
  • The current market values and wage rates for your employment, including any expected annual increases in compensation in the future.

How to prove lost wages?

Courts look at a number of different documents to help determine the actual value of the income you lost. Some documents that may be evaluated include:

  • Past Check Stubs or Paystubs
  • Previous Years Tax Returns
  • Documentation of Direct Deposits
  • Letters from your Employer
  • Bank Statements
  • Notes from your Doctor

Practical Advice

  • Talk to your doctor about your job and your injuries.
  • Tell your doctor all of the issues you are facing related to your injuries, including difficulties with your job (and even housework).
  • Get a note from your doctor outlining any restrictions and how long they might last.
  • Request reports from your doctor(s) explaining the connection between your accident and your inability to work.
  • If you are self-employed, gather the last 3-5 years of tax returns to bolster your wage loss claim.

Call us if you need assistance.

If you encounter an issue with an insurance company that won’t pay your lost wages after an auto accident and need guidance, you might need a personal injury lawyer to help you with your car accident, and we are here to help. Don’t hesitate to give us a call at (864) 757-0757 or send us a message at any hour of the day or night.