Missing any amount of work can be financially draining, but it is especially so after being involved in a serious accident when the loss of wage earning capacity is combined with the piles of medical bills that start to arrive in the mail.
Sadly, this scenario is surprisingly common in Georgia.
If you or a loved one have been injured in a serious accident, you may find that you are unable to return to work right away. If a catastrophic injury occurs, you may never be able to return to work.
Often, people contact our experienced and knowledgeable Georgia personal injury attorneys at Scholle Law to ask us if they will be able to recover any income they lost as a result of an injury. The good news is that the law in Georgia does allow for the recovery of lost earnings. But recouping those lost earnings from the at-fault driver’s insurance company can be difficult and frustrating.
In this article, we explain your right to income loss recovery and the best way to go about doing so.
Loss of income vs. loss of earning capacity: what’s the difference?
Depending on the type of injuries you sustained, you may have a claim for either lost income or loss of wage earning capacity — or a claim for both. There is an important distinction between these two types of losses.
Lost income is the amount of wages you missed out on and includes all wages, bonuses, and any other benefits that you may rely on from your employer. This can include your hourly wage or salary, any sick or vacation days you had to use while treating or recovering from your injuries, and any bonuses, raises, promotions or commissions you may have missed out on due to your absence at work. Lost income can be reflected by a precise dollar amount based on what you were earning at the time of the accident and how many hours you missed from work.
Loss of earning capacity, on the other hand, refers to the loss of your ability to earn a living in the future. Loss of wage earning capacity is speculative and not always measurable in terms of an exact number; however, it can be generally calculated by using a formula that takes into consideration your life expectancy, gross annual income and cost of living. But, unlike lost wages, that amount is less certain.
Insurers Often Challenge Loss of Wage Earning Capacity.
Insurance companies and law firms will often argue that loss of earning capacity is too uncertain to compensate because no one can guarantee that a person will have the same job forever, or that they will likely not make the same wage over time. They may also try to argue that you have a duty to mitigate those lost earnings by obtaining a different job, perhaps in an entirely different field, even if it pays less.
Because it is very difficult to prove that someone is so completely disabled that they can’t perform any type of job, loss of earning capacity claims are much more difficult to prove. They are, however, still worth pursuing.
Not only are they damages in which you are entitled to recover, but in the grand scheme of a personal injury claim, every dollar awarded in lost earning capacity for the rest of your life can add up to a substantial amount.
How To Prove Loss of Wage Earning Capacity
Now that you have a better understanding of what counts as lost income, how do you go about proving that you lost that income as a result of a serious accident?
Lost income can look different to each person as not all companies offer the same types of benefits, so it is vital that you document any missed time and opportunities that you miss out on because you were out of work after an injury. Just as with any injuries sustained, the insurance adjuster won’t simply reimburse you because you claim you missed time from work. You must prove that any time away from work was medically necessary and directly related to your injuries.
The easiest way to prove this is by obtaining a work slip or some other type of written proof from your doctor reflecting the dates that you were unable to work. Just as doctors can write a note excusing children from the classroom, they can also write a note excusing adults from work. This could also be in the form of a medical narrative from your treating physician, where the doctor explains your injuries, diagnosis and chances of recovery in a detailed way for insurance adjusters to understand.
Remember that insurance adjusters are NOT medical professionals, so the more detailed and well-explained your medical history is, the easier it is for them to fully comprehend and the harder it will be for them to deny your claim.
Another way to prove your lost income is by providing documentation of your pay and benefits from your employer. This can be in the form of pay stubs, your W-2(s) from the tax year before the accident and any years following that you were still undergoing treatment, or a salary or wage verification form from your employer.
The most effective way to obtain this information is by contacting your manager or human resources department. They should be able to effectively detail the number of hours you normally work during each pay period, as well as any days you have taken off during your recovery and the hourly rate or salary that you were earning at the time of the accident.
In addition, if you lost out on a promotion or any vacation, sick or bonus days, that would also need to be reflected in documentation from your employer. It is equally important that you keep track of any missed days from work and your pay stubs as they will reflect any days off you have taken and provide evidence of the lost wages incurred because of it.
While you may not have technically lost any earnings by using sick or vacation days through your employer, it is still important that you are compensated for using those days because you have still lost out on days that you would not have been forced to use otherwise if you had not been injured in an accident.
What if you’re self-employed?
Obtaining the necessary proof of lost wages from your employer proves to be a bit more challenging if you are self-employed, but it is not impossible.
First, you will want to make sure that you can provide the insurance adjuster with proof of the existence of your employment through tax documents and returns that will reflect your yearly income and earnings. Further, if you use an accountant or bookkeeper of any kind, they may be able to help you gather any self-employment income documentation supporting your lost income calculations.
If you have longtime personal customers to whom you provide a service, such as housekeeping or hairdressing, you may even be able to get financial records or an affidavit from those customers stating how much they’ve paid you.
Keep in mind that any undocumented income will be very difficult to prove to an insurance adjuster, and therefore is unlikely to be reimbursed. Any side jobs that pay in cash, under the table, or are based on tips that you may rely on are rarely successfully compensated if they are not properly documented.
Consult a Duluth Personal Injury Lawyer
As you can see, the process of proving lost wages after an accident can be quite difficult. It’s often much more technical and complicated than obtaining other types of damages, and it requires the injured party to gather a great deal of personal information because many insurance companies will require extensive documentation to prove your lost wages.
In fact, proving lost income can be so daunting and tedious that many personal injury victims simply drop their claim for lost wages and go uncompensated.
Don’t make the mistake of missing out on money that is owed to you.
If you or a loved one were involved in a serious accident and the at-fault party, the at-fault party’s insurance company, or your own insurance company is refusing to compensate you for your lost wages, consider contacting a skilled Duluth personal injury lawyer to get the compensation you deserve.
At Scholle Law, we have decades of experience helping accident victims who have sustained personal injuries recover the money they deserve. We know how to calculate and prove lost wages — no matter if you were working salary, self-employed, or paid based on commission. We help walk each individual through their own unique and challenging circumstances.
Whether it be tediously combing through your pay stubs and tax statements, drafting up an affidavit, or requesting medical narratives from your doctors, we’ve worked through hundreds of distinct challenges that recovering all of your lost wages can present.
If you’ve been involved in an accident and you are losing income or missing time from work due to your injuries, the staff at Scholle Law can help. Contact us anytime to set up your free consultation with a skilled and experienced attorney right away.