What Can You Do About Lost Wages?

People who have suffered from a personal injury are often left to deal with the reality of lost wages. Losing time off from work and, thus, losing income as a result of that missed time can cause great hardship for individual employees. An inability to work in the future as the result of an accident or a similar event can result in long-term or even permanent financial devastation. Understanding the law when it comes to unfortunate circumstances like these can make a huge and lasting difference in a person’s life.

What Does “Lost Wages” Mean?

Lost wages simply means the loss of pay due to being unable to work in order to earn one’s income. Conversations about lost wages typically follow an event where someone has suffered a physical, mental, or emotional injury, which has made returning to work difficult if not impossible. When this happens, people begin to wonder if they can sue the party at fault for an injury in order to recoup some of the money lost as a result of being unable to work.

When deciding whether to sue or not, it is necessary to understand how the law works with regards to lost wages. To be more specific, individual states set the rules governing compensation in terms of income lost due to an unforeseen circumstance resulting in injury. Generally speaking, there are two types of lost wage compensation a person can request, which are:

  • Actual wages lost following an injury due to time taken off of work
  • Future income that will be lost as an injury prevents one from returning to work in the near or foreseeable future

Who Do You Sue?

Typically, the correct party to sue would be the one directly responsible for an injury. Depending upon the circumstances, this could be a private citizen, a corporation, a government entity, or even a person’s workplace if the injury occurred on the job. Claims involving work-related injuries are commonly referred to as worker’s compensation and usually include a petition for lost wages, in addition to compensation for an injury suffered and medical bills acquired.

Who Pays Lost Wages?

If the other party is properly insured at the time of the injury, their insurance company typically pays lost wages. When a party which has been deemed responsible does not have adequate insurance coverage, this entity is still required to pay for lost wages. In either scenario, an injured person is not automatically compensated for lost wages – that decision usually follows a thorough investigation and may even involve a judge or jury’s verdict to decide liability.

When Do You Sue?

Each state has its own set of regulations with regard to providing lost wages. This means that every jurisdiction will have its own statute of limitations. Anyone who has been injured and who has had to miss work as a result of that injury should inquire about their own state laws and seek legal help right away.

How Are Lost Wages Calculated?

Generally speaking, lost wages are calculated by multiplying one’s hourly wage by the number of hours that work was missed as a direct result of the injury. Commissions, overtime pay, and bonus payments may also be factored into a claim for lost wages. A person claiming lost wages will then have to show proof of their income and prove that work was missed solely because of the injury incurred. Before denying or accepting a claim, most insurance companies will vigorously investigate all evidence presented with regard to the injury.

A loss of one’s future earning capacity may require more documentation and may even rely upon medical testimony before it can be concluded that future work will be missed. Such scenarios are highly speculative, but not impossible to prove. For example, if medical reports indicate that a person will not be able to return to work for several months or that she can return, but must work fewer hours for a period of time, this can all be taken into consideration when calculating a loss of future income.

When calculating a loss of future earnings, other considerations may also include:
  • The type of work a plaintiff does
  • A plaintiff’s overall skills
  • A plaintiff’s age
  • The total life expectancy for an individual plaintiff

Once it has been determined that a party is liable for an injury, these factors will help in deciding how much money will be lost in the future due to a diminished capacity to work.

Is There a Limit to How Much I Can Ask For?

Each state has its own laws with regard to matters concerning lost wages, but, generally speaking, there is no limit to how much a person can sue for. What a person asks for is not necessarily what will be awarded, though. Also, the amount of lost wages must be clearly accounted for using prior check stubs and salary information, employer documentation of the number of hours missed, medical records supporting that hours or days were taken off from work due to an injury, and so on. In cases involving future earnings, expert medical testimony may also be required before a financial award is determined. In short, there is no limit to how much a person can ask for in lost wages provided the amount requested can be proven as reasonable and fair.

Does Time Off For Sick Days and Rehab Count?

In some cases, wages do not have to be lost within the same time period but may be spread out over a longer period of time. For example, a person injured in a car accident may miss a few days from work immediately following the accident. However, they may also experience debilitating headaches on random days requiring them to call in sick or leave work early. If it can be proven that these headaches are a direct result of being injured in the car wreck, it may be possible to sue for hours or days sporadically missed from work. The same may apply for time missed from work due to having to attend rehabilitative therapy as a result of an injury.

Do Insurance Companies Always Pay?

A lawsuit seeking lost wages does not always result in a settlement. In fact, most insurance companies and others who may be deemed liable for an injury will often argue vigorously against having to pay lost wages. Even when liability is proven, it is common for plaintiffs to seek to prove that lost wages do not or will not total the amount being requested. Cases like these can be lengthy and complicated to pursue.

One such case involves the well-known comedian, George Wallace. In 2007, Wallace was performing at the Bellagio hotel and casino in Las Vegas. Upon exiting the stage, his feet became entangled in loose cables causing him to trip and fall. This event resulted in a rupture of the comedian’s Achilles tendon leading to a lawsuit where the performer’s attorneys requested $7.1 million. Wallace was ultimately awarded $1.3 million, of that amount $1.2 million was specifically allocated for lost wages, with $100,000 awarded for pain and suffering, and less than $10,000 for actual medical costs.

Can an Unemployed Person Collect Lost Wages?

Yes, a person who is unemployed can sue for lost wages. If injured, it can be requested that the liable party compensate for pain, suffering, medical costs, and lost wages.  An unemployed person may be successful in such a suit if it can be proven that the injury prevented the injured party from work she could have secured and performed had the injury never occurred.

Further Information

Lost wages may be factored into a larger settlement, which can include compensation for pain and suffering, as well as other medical or property damages suffered. Awards and amounts are never guaranteed, but people who have sustained injuries on the job or elsewhere may very well be unable to work for a period of time due to those injuries. For those who are more severely injured – or even permanently disabled – future work may be difficult or impossible. In America, the legal system is set up in such a way as to fairly compensate people in these situations as long as individuals can provide the necessary documentation to support a request for missed earnings. More information on this topic is available in our article archives. For specific questions about lost wages, or to seek compensation for an injury that is not your fault, please consult the laws of your state and, if necessary, contact a qualified attorney specializing in personal injury cases.

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