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Can I Recover Lost Wages After A Car Accident?

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Jeff Sevey

When you're injured in a car accident, there are many different areas of your life that will be damaged. You might have sustained physical injuries. Your car may be damaged or totaled. And you might have been unable to work for a period of time following the accident or have a decreased work capacity due to your injuries.

The result of this inability to work is an interruption in income, and this can cause great financial loss and the stress that comes with it. If the accident that caused this loss was someone else's fault, they are responsible for compensating you for that economic loss, as well as your other damages.

With any damages associated with an injury, it's up to the injured party to prove that damages occurred and to prove the value of those damages. It is standard in cases such as these to prove that the damage was "more likely than not" to occur. To put this another way, the injured party needs to prove that it is more likely that the damage did occur than did not occur, and it is more likely that the value of those damages is accurate than not accurate. This is often called the "51% rule", meaning that if the injured party can provide evidence that proves that the damage occurred more likely than not, they can then recover damages.

Recovering Lost Wages

You are allowed to recover lost wages that resulted from an accident that you were involved in, but were not at fault for. Even if you were partially at fault for the accident, you may still be able to recover some damages. When your injuries have prevented you from going to work and doing your job, you are entitled to the wages you lost due to your absence, because if the accident had not occurred, you would have been able to work. Even if you could not work for a period of months, you're still entitled to the amount of income lost. The length of time you are off work due to injuries is irrelevant. You are entitled to recovery of that lost income.

"Lost Earning Capacity"

If the accident you were involved in causes major permanent injuries, and/or long-lasting disabilities, it may affect your capacity for doing your job in the future. If you can not do the job you are accustomed to doing, you are eligible to receive compensation for this lost earning capacity.

If you are still able to work, but the disabilities that were caused by the car accident prevent you from promotions, or from getting a higher-paying job, you can recover damages for that loss of potential income. It pays to remember that both loss of stamina and chronic pain qualify as disabling injuries.

Aggravation of Pre-Existing Injuries

If the accident you were involved in has aggravated injuries that existed prior to the accident, and you can not work because of these aggravated injuries, you can still recover the full amount of your lost earnings. This is due to the fact that the aggravation of the injuries was caused by the accident. Had the accident not occurred, the injuries would not have been aggravated, and you would have been able to continue working normally.

You Must Prove Your Lost Wages and Earning Capacity

In order to prove lost wages, you must submit your most recent pay stub prior to the injury as evidence. Proving loss of future earning capacity is a bit more complicated since it requires some speculation regarding your future. It must be assumed that due to the type of work you perform, the severity of the injuries will cause your earning capacity to suffer.

How much you recover is even more difficult to calculate. Often, it is not just the difference of paycheck amounts before and after your injuries. Usually, an economic expert will be called in to determine a general amount of lost earning capacity. This will give an approximation for your earning potential had you not been involved in the accident and sustained the disabling injuries. What you are still able to earn will be deducted from the estimated earning capacity, and the difference between the two will make up your lost earning capacity.

Self-Employment vs. Regular Employment

Establishing the lost income damages for someone who is self-employed is even more complicated than with someone who is employed by a company. It is not simply that you had to miss work due to your injuries. Because you are self-employed, you will need to prove that you lost income, as well as prove that you lost opportunities and contracts too. This is the perfect example of when a qualified, experienced attorney is worth searching out. In fact, you may need the testimony of an expert who is able to quantify the amount of income you've lost due to your inability to work, as well as the projected amount of income you've lost in less tangible ways such as client meetings that would have resulted in a new contract or new opportunities for income.

Where an employee of a company is entitled to lost wages and loss of future earning potential, that's usually a set figure. With someone who is self-employed, however, damages could include lost income, lost capacity for earning, loss of profits, loss of opportunities, and loss of goodwill with current paying clients.

It is more difficult to prove income damages where the self-employed are involved, but it isn't impossible. Business tax returns establish a pattern of income for the self-employed, as can current contracts that are already in place. The case may be that you were unable to fulfill these contracts because of your injuries, and suffered a financial loss because of it. Correspondence, appointment records, and calendars can also help solidify the income opportunities lost.

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