Lost Wages After a Car Accident - What Can You Do?

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Lost Wages After a Car Accident - What Can You Do?
Written By: Josh Lowell ~ 3/18/2019

BlogPostLostWages03182019_s.jpgAfter a car accident, your insurance company and perhaps even your personal injury attorney will focus heavily on the physical and mental suffering you endured. To an extent, that makes a lot of sense. For weeks, months, or years, your mind and body went through Hell, and your medical expenses and pain and suffering create a large portion of your personal injury claim. After an auto collision, there are many areas that make up your damages. One area that often gets under looked and undervalued, is wage loss.

What is Wage Loss?
This seems like a simple question that should produce a simple answer. Unfortunately, the law and the insurance industry have created complicated rules that serve to protect the injured party and raise havoc simultaneously. First, the legal process distinguishes between wages you have already lost and wages you have yet to lose. This first part makes sense. If you were involved in a car accident and needed surgery, you likely also needed to take a few weeks or more off for physical therapy and recovery. If all that time off has already occurred, that forms your past wage loss. If you make your claim with the knowledge that you will be having surgery in the future, and your doctors can opine that you will not be able to work for one month after the surgery, that forms your future wage loss.

The simplest scenario occurs when the injured party works for an hourly rate of pay. If I make $15 per hour and work 40 hours per week, it easy to compute six weeks of lost wages with simple multiplication. ($15 dollars per hour) x (40 hours per week) x (six weeks) = $3,600 in wage loss. What happens if you are paid a salary. While you certainly missed time from work because of the car accident, perhaps you weren’t docked any pay. Are you entitled to compensation in that scenario? If you were forced to use sick leave, vacation time, or any other days off you had stored as a result of the collision, you may be entitled to compensation from the at-fault party.

This is referred to as the “collateral source doctrine.” In Washington, the at-fault party cannot benefit from previous arrangements you made with employers, insurance companies, or even the state of Washington (regarding L&I, Medicare, etc.). The state and the courts agree that you should not need to use your sick days due to another person’s negligence. You may be entitled to a pro rata claim for your lost wages related to the sick days you were forced to take. For example, if you make $50,000 per year and you used 10-sick days after a crash, you may be entitled to claim $1,369.86, which represents 10/365ths of your annual salary.

If you’re working with the insurance company, don’t forget about pay bonuses or other employment perks and benefits that you could not use due to your car accident related injuries.

How Do You Prove Wage Loss?
Having a wage loss claim and establishing your wage loss claim are two separate beasts. Even if you missed time from work, if you have no documentation or testimony to support your claim, a jury might find it difficult to award you lost wages. There are a few simple steps you can take during your injury claim to make sure insurance companies don’t ignore your wage loss claim completely.

  1. Talk to your doctor. Some jobs require a disability note from your medical doctor to get time off from work and others do not. Regardless of which camp you fall in, it’s always a good idea to get a medical professionals support. If your doctor writes in her medical records that you are unable to work for the next two weeks due to your collision-related symptoms, it will make it significantly more difficult for the insurance company to gloss over your lost wages.
  2. Keep notes. Your pay stubs and tax returns are certainly good documents that can show lost wages after a collision. However, unless you can differentiate between time off from work related to the car accident and the few days where you developed a cold, the insurance companies may balk at paying you what you deserve.
  3. Get a letter from your employer. Whether you work with your boss, an HR representative, or somebody else altogether, getting a written letter (preferably on company letterhead) documenting your request for time off from work and describing the reasons for your request can help document your wage loss claim.
  4. Hire a personal injury attorney. Obviously, a personal injury attorney can’t manufacture evidence for you. However, an experienced lawyer can work with your medical doctor, speak with your employer, and help gather the notes necessary to properly document your lost wages.

When it comes to wage loss, you are entitled to fair compensation for time off that you would not have required but for the car accident. Be genuine, however. Juries can smell greed a mile away. If you “decide” not to work for six months because your back hurts a bit, it may come back to haunt you later when the jury learns that you were able to go work out in your garden or even take a trip to the mall without complaints. At the law office of Magnuson Lowell P.S., we are dedicated to helping our clients recoup the money they are owed. Call today for a free consultation (425)885-7500.

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