A serious auto accident, slip and fall, or construction site injury can easily put you out of work for weeks or months. You will need to take time off to recover from your injury, attend doctor’s appointments and surgeries, and attend physical therapy sessions. That is not discounting the possibility that you develop a disability due to your accident, which can add months to your recovering time, and you may still be left with a serious health condition afterward. All of this is to say that the cost of your injury goes far beyond your physical injuries. However, if someone else is at fault for your injuries, then you may be able to recover both lost wages and lost future earnings in a personal injury claim.
Actual Wages vs Potential Wages
When reviewing the costs of an accident, many victims are surprised to learn that missed paychecks can be included in their list of damages. This is because the state of New York recognizes that the costs associated with an accident are not limited to a person’s medical treatment and affect their ability to work. The goal of a personal injury claim is to make the accident victim whole again, which includes financial restitution for any missed workdays or paychecks.
But lost wages are not the only work-related cost you can include in a claim. In many cases, accident victims not only lost actual wages, but also potential wages. Actual wages refer to the paychecks you were not able to receive because you were unable to go to work and are often comparable to your average weekly or monthly income. In contrast, potential wages refer to bonuses, raises, or promotions that a worker would have been able to receive if they had not been injured. In a personal injury claim, both types of wages can be recovered.
Potential wages are also referred to as “lost earning capacity,” meaning your injury directly affected your ability to work a normal shift. This could mean your hours were cut because of your injury or, if you are paid by commission, you were not able to complete as much work as you used to be able to do. This can include sales commissions, construction projects, or deliveries. These damages can also be described as “lost future earnings,” which means your claim will include any wages you missed out on because you had to leave your job due to a disability.
But to recover each of these wages, you will need to clearly demonstrate how the accident impacted your ability to work and the amount of money you lost because of your injury.
Adding Up Your Costs
Calculating lost wages can be as simple as collecting old pay stubs, determining your average wage per week or month, and adding up how many full paychecks you missed out on due to your injury. In some cases, you may only have to add up the months you were out of work to determine how much money you want in your claim.
However, what if you only had to take off specific days of the week for doctor’s appointments or therapy? What if you had to reduce your work hours?
Well, in these instances, the process is relatively the same. First, you will look at how much money you make per week. Then, you will compare a full paycheck to a partial paycheck from a week where you had to take time off. The difference between these two paychecks will show how much money you lost due to your injury. You will have to go week by week, but at the end of it all, you will have a clear number to include in your claim for lost wages.
Now, you must be asking, “What about bonuses, raises, and promotions?”
How Do You Prove Lost Earning Capacity?
Lost earning capacity is a little more complicated than lost wages, as you are dealing with hypothetical wages, but it is not impossible. If your employee contract guaranteed you a yearly bonus or annual raise based on your performance levels, you could cite that to demonstrate what wages you should have earned. You can also look at other workers in your industry and the amount of time it took them to reach certain salaries or career positions.
If you had expected to reach a supervisor position based on your work ethic and history with a company, then that could be included in your claim, but only if you lost out on that opportunity due to your injury. In most cases, you will want to talk to a financial expert who can evaluate what your potential earnings could have been. They can review your work history, average wages, career opportunities, employee evaluations, and other aspects of your career to determine how much your case is worth.
In addition, contacting an experienced and knowledgeable NY personal injury lawyer should be your first step after an accident. At Wingate, Russotti, Shapiro, Moses & Halperin, LLP, we have worked with numerous clients to recover millions of dollars in settlements and jury verdicts. In each case, we evaluate not only the financial aspect of an injury, but also the personal costs you have suffered. To discuss your case further in a free consultation, call our office at (212) 986-7353.