After an accident with a recovery expected to be lengthy or that causes a permanent and lifelong injury such as a traumatic brain injury, there’s an equally lengthy list of reasons a victim or their family may be able to obtain financial compensation. Depending on the severity of the injury and the prognosis made by a specialized team of medical professionals (known as “expert witnesses” when testifying at trial), a victim may qualify for a variety of monetary compensation to offset medical expenses that they’ve incurred by no fault of their own.
As always, a board certified civil trial lawyer is the best way for a victim and their family to find out what they’re entitled to under the law in their state.
One area that a lawyer may be able to obtain compensation on behalf of their client is that of lost wages. Lost wages accrue when a victim is out of work due to an accident for longer than their paid leave allows. What results can range from loss of income to, in the worst-case scenario for a victim, loss of employment altogether. Whether it’s because the victim held a position which must be filled or because they became too injured to continue on in the line of work they were trained to do, lost wages can cause financial turmoil and thusly result in mental anguish for a victim and their loved ones.
The law specifically defines “lost wages” in the legal sense as:
“Lost wages is an element of damages recoverable from the defendant under state law. Lost wages is not the same as loss or reduction of future earnings. The plaintiff has the burden of proving to the court or juries the amount of damages he or she has incurred.”
One step at a time
As the definition above states, lost wages does not mean loss of future earnings when it comes to a legal interpretation. It’s important that an experienced lawyer handles this type of case and takes great care to go one step at a time, ensuring their client is properly compensated to the maximum extent the law allows in all aspects of the case. Often, confusion arises about how the law defines the compensation legally allowed to be paid to a plaintiff. A compassionate, trustworthy lawyer will explain the process to their client if they should ask any questions about it.
Shaked Law Tip: A red flag should be raised if a lawyer glosses over the differences in types of compensation owed to a victim and does not clearly explain what can and cannot be obtained.
When litigating a case where a victim is entitled to “lost wages” as defined under the law, the lawyer must clearly provide evidence (in trial if necessary) that the victim has been out of work for an extended amount of time and has lost money because of the defendant’s reckless actions. Lost wages in this sense has no bearing on whether the victim may return to work in the future–to an extent.
This defining principle comes into play when the victim has become permanently disabled and has suffered permanent physical (chronic pain, spine, or brain injuries) or mental injury (mental anguish, PTSD, flashbacks, depression). Under the law, these types of injuries would be argued (again, in trial if necessary) as “future earnings” and are quite commonly argued during wrongful death litigation. Future earnings are what the victim could have potentially earned over a lifetime, had they not become permanently injured or worse, died as a result of a reckless, careless defendant.
Economic recovery, in brief
Without the counsel of an experienced lawyer, accident victims and their loved ones may be losing their chance for what’s known as economic recovery. We detailed economic recovery in Economic Recovery after TBI: How Victims and Families Get Back on Their Feet After Serious Injury. This term when used in the legal sense is quite broad, and covers a wide range of injury related compensation. This specific type of compensation is known as damages. Damages are usually obtained after serious bodily injury or a wrongful death caused by another’s recklessness to the extent that is has altered the victim’s life so drastically and in such a traumatic way that their life will never be the same. In wrongful death litigation, family members and spouses may be entitled to recover the same damages.
It’s more than a paycheck
After suffering an injury as severe as, for example, a traumatic brain injury, the compensation awarded by a judge will take into consideration both lost wages and the potential for future earnings. The judge will make separate determinations based on the evidence presented by expert witnesses that can speak on behalf of the victim, and attest to the reality of how their life has changed for the worst because of the injuries they’ve sustained.
However, when it comes to being awarded future earnings, in order for a judge and jury to make such a large determination that affects the rest of the victim’s life financially, the plaintiff (victim) and their legal team must prove (using expert witness testimony, and accident recreation if needed) their ability to earn future income has been permanently diminished or extensively impaired to the point they could never earn what they previously earned in their line of work. The court always takes certain things into consideration when deciding to award damages:
These factors usually include but are not always limited to:
- The plaintiff’s age
- Life expectancy of the plaintiff (had they not become injured and following the accident that caused the injury)
- Occupation, special talents the victim had that earned them income, skills the victim had that they can no longer utilize
- The plaintiff’s job experience and their specific training in the job they performed prior to sustaining the injury
In order to provide for their family after sustaining an injury that causes lifelong impairment, a victim must retain a board certified, experienced lawyer that has tried similar (no two cases are exactly alike!) cases. It’s not enough that a lawyer has “seen” or “handled” catastrophic injury cases in the past; what matters is that they’ve seen those cases all the way to trial and won.
That’s because obtaining these kind of damages requires a level of understanding the law and the moral ethics to understand that the plaintiff’s injuries are painful, permanent, and that their client will most likely not return to the life they once enjoyed. Board certification doesn’t stop at how many cases were won successfully; it’s the moral and ethical understanding of human beings that sets these lawyers apart from the rest–and why they’re always the best choice for a client who has suffered catastrophic injuries.