How to Recover Lost Work Income After a Car Accident in The State of Georgia

Key Points:

  • Under Georgia law, if you’ve been injured due to another’s negligence,  you may be entitled to damages for lost income and lost future earnings capacity.
  • Payroll statements, paycheck stubs, bank records, a verification from your employer stating your position and monthly income will provide evidence of your earnings prior to the accident.
  • If your income fluctuates or you had a low income year, your average income may be calculated based on past tax returns.
Woman worried about loss of income.

Woman worried about loss of income.

Can You Recover Lost Wages After A Georgia Car Accident?

Yes. Legally, if you are unable to work because of injuries caused by a car, truck or motorcycle accident, you may be entitled claim and recover the income you have lost.  The law in Georgia allows you to recover both general damages for the pain and suffering from your physical injuries as well as special damages, which includes expenses and lost earnings.

In addition, if you have a lasting injury or a permanent disability caused by the wreck, you are also allowed to make a claim for the future income you would have earned if not for the accident.

Recovering Current Income Loss Following an Accident

Person in wheelchair.

Person in wheelchair.

How to recover your current lost wages after an accident.  If you cannot work while you recover from injuries suffered in an accident, you may recover and get paid the earnings and benefits lost while you are unable to work.  This can include the days or weeks missed from work, including the time away from your job for doctor and clinic visits, for medical treatment and procedures, physical therapy, and other medical care.  You may be able to recover lost income compensation even if are a salaried employee and continued to receive a paycheck or if you received partial income replacement through workers compensation or a disability payment plan.

Recovering non-paid medical leave after an auto accident.  If you are an hourly or commission-paid employee and you miss time from your job as a result of your injuries, you may recover your lost pay.  Your losses can be calculated in several ways, including using your employer’s work schedule, your past paycheck stubs or payroll records, and even banking or income tax records which may show a drop in your income as compared to the time before the wreck.  It is important in these situations that your medical records support the time missed from work.  A doctor’s written work excuse is one strongly recommended way of proving that your time missed from work was necessary.

Recovering sick pay or vacation (PTO) benefits used as a result of the accident.  Under Georgia law you may be able to claim lost pay even if your employer continued to pay you while you missed time from work.  If your company continued to pay your salary, but you used your sick leave or paid vacation days while you recovered from your injuries, you may have that time reimbursed to you.

For example, it would be unfair to be forced to use up your two weeks of vacation, and be left with no paid time off, because of another driver’s negligence.  If not for the accident, you would have either worked or enjoyed your vacation days at another time.  The daily amount of your salary or other earnings can be calculated based on your current and past payroll records – or using other acceptable ways of determining the amount of this loss.  You may then recover these lost benefits as part of your settlement or lawsuit award.

Other benefits that can be recovered.  In addition to direct lost past and future income, you may be able to recover other losses such as medical insurance or pension plans.

Recovering Future Lost Income After a Georgia Car Accident

When your injury is serious and may result in your inability to work in the future or when it may reduce your ability to earn as much money, you may claim and recover future lost income.  Under Georgia law, this is known as a loss of capacity to earn and refers to the loss or reduction in the ability to earn a living.

If the injury results in a complete loss of the ability to work, and this can be proven through medical testimony, a victim may recover an amount equal to the pay that would have been earned in the future.  Likewise, if a victim will be able to work but only on a limited schedule or will have to take an early retirement, this is also compensable.  An attorney, accountant or economist — along with your medical doctors — may be able to calculate the victim’s future losses and present this evidence to the insurance company or to a court.

Diminished or reduced earning capacity.  There is a legal difference between lost wages and future loss of earnings capacity.  If an accident victim can still work, but only in a more limited way than before the injury, he or she is likely to earn less money in the future.  This is known as lost earning capacity.

If an injury is life-changing, future income losses due to diminished earning capacity can often be recovered based on medical reports from a qualified doctor or physical therapist.  A medical professional may examine the injury victim and write a report detailing the amount of physical capability that has been lost.  Income losses can then be calculated based on the work limitations and restrictions that are related to the lasting or permanent injury.

Career-Ending Injuries.    If your career ends from an automobile accident, you may be able to claim not only the income lost, but the mental anguish associated with loss of your chosen profession.  For example, our law office represented a delivery room nurse who suffered a serious hand injury.  After her car accident the nurse was unable to safely hold infants while working in the maternity ward.  She was forced to end her career as a labor and delivery nurse and find a new career in the medical field.  The loss of the work she cherished was devastating, and we were able to recover a large insurance policy limit as part of her compensation, even though she was able to continue working in a different career.

Loss of Business Opportunities.  If you became unable to accept a promotion or suffered a similar loss, for example, you are not able to continue to drive because of vision loss, you may have lost an opportunity for advancement or increased income.  Such losses may also be considered part of the income compensation you may receive in your accident case.

How Self Employed Car and Truck Accident Injury Victims Can Recover Lost Income

If you are self employed and you’re unable to work because of the injuries sustained in a motor vehicle accident, it can be a little more challenging.  But it is still possible to recover the lost income. You may need records provided by your accountant, banking records showing lower revenue deposits, office records showing the drop in receipts and income of your business, income tax records, or all of these items.

If your business can operate successfully without you, did you have to hire extra workers to replace your efforts? Did you lose a large contract or were you, for example, a trucker unable to drive several loads due to your injury?  If you lost business opportunities or had additional operating expenses, this type of income loss can be calculated and recovered using the past records of your business.

How to Calculate and Recover Current and Past Lost Pay

If you are an hourly or salaried employee, your lost wages or income should be fairly straightforward to quantify.  Most likely your losses can be based on your actual earnings prior to the accident and how many weeks or months you had to miss work due to your injuries. If you made $4,000 a month and missed three months of work without pay after using up any paid sick leave, your lost income would be $12,000.

Payroll statements, W-2’s, paycheck stubs and a letter on company letterhead from a supervisor or HR department stating your position and monthly income will provide evidence of your income prior to the accident. If your income fluctuates and you had a low income year, it may be useful to calculate your average income based on several years of tax returns. Also of use as evidence is your work calendar showing the sales calls that had to be canceled or missed appointments.

In many cases, a serious injury may cause physical limitations and long lasting changes in your ability to work. You may reasonably expect to have reduced future earnings capacity as a result of many types of disabling accidents causing spinal injuries and traumatic brain injuries. Earnings capacity describes what a person is able to earn.

Testimony from medical and economic experts about your medical condition and work limitations with earnings projections by financial planners are used to estimate the financial impact of an accident on your future income stream and your lost future earnings capacity. A jury may award an accident victim compensation for the loss of ability to earn a living.

 

If I won’t be able to work for weeks or months, what happens?

Client meeting with lawyer.

Client meeting with lawyer.

After any serious accident, you may need to take time off work. If you are fortunate, you may have vacation and sick leave.  You can use this paid time off to continue to earn money while you recover.  However, because it is unfair to you and your family to use up this personal time, you may be reimbursed by the at fault person or company when your case resolves.

If you did not have any accumulated leave, or if your employer does not continue to pay you while you are away and unable to work, you are entitled to recover the wages you lost during your recovery.  However, in most cases you will not recover this income until your case settles.  As a general rule we recommend that most people return to work as soon as they are able to do so, even if this means working under some restrictions.  In our experience as trial lawyers, courts and jurors view people who return to work as soon as they can more favorably than a person who seems to be taking advantage of the situation by remaining out of work longer than necessary.

What if I lost my job because I could not show up to work for a few weeks?

If you lost your job due to an inability to work after an accident, you may be entitled to be compensated for this as well.  Verification from your employer will be necessary, to prove that your job loss was due to a physical inability to work, versus some other reason.

What are the best ways to prove lost wages?

You will want to prove the dollar amount you lost from being unable to work after an accident.  The first thing you will need are your medical records and any letter or report from your doctor taking you out of work or putting limitations on your job.  You will also need to prove how much time you missed.   Your employer can provide a certification of lost wages or you can keep track of the days you missed from work and obtain a verification from your job for those days missed.  If you missed a very long period of time, or if you will have future income losses due to inability to work as much or at all, your income tax returns and a report from an economist may be used to show the amount you would have earned had you not been injured.

How much proof is required for my lost income?

Lost wages and earnings must be proven by the victim with a degree of certainty.  The burden of proof is on you, as the person claiming the income loss, to show how much was lost.  In Georgia a Court or Jury may not speculate about how much an injury victim lost in the past or will lose in the future.  Although testimony about how much time was missed from a job is allowed, it is best to support your testimony with proper documentation such as paycheck stubs, payroll records and even additional testimony from a supervisor, business owner or human resources director.

Can I recover lost commissions or bonuses?

This is possible, but can be challenging.  If you are a worker who earns a base salary plus commissions or bonuses, you may be able to prove an average amount of commissions earned over time using the records of your employer and past income tax returns.  Be aware, however, that the best ways of doing this may involve presenting several years worth of records to show that a recent bonus or commission was not a random event, but likely to occur again and again.

What are some defenses to a lost wage claim?

Other things that may be considered when calculating lost wages are the type of work a person did and whether he or she was able to, or will be able to, continue to do that work.  Whether a person was capable of being reassigned to other work or retrained for a new job or career, and a person’s age and general condition, could matter.  If a person could have done similar work and earned money, but chose not to do so, this could be a defenses in some cases.

For more information, the team at The Millar Law Firm, LLC are here to help. With years of experience helping victims of car accidents get the compensation they deserve, the Atlanta car accident attorneys at The Millar Law Firm can help you too. Call today!

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