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Lost Wages: How can I pay the bills

This post is part of a series on the types of damages people experience as a result of an automobile collision. Check out the other posts in the Damages Category to learn about medical expenses, pain and suffering, and property damage. 

Being involved in a car wreck can upset your life and the life of your family. Often you will find yourself missing work to go to the doctor, get your car fixed, or care for injured family members. If you had to miss work because of an automobile wreck you are able to recover lost wages. If you were injured in a car wreck and have had to miss work contact an attorney for a free consultation.

What are lost wages?

Lost wages are money you could have earned, but did not earn, because of the automobile collision. You do not have to be completely unable to work to receive lost wages. If you went on light duty or reduced hours because you were unable to work full time and lost income as a result you could collect lost wages. People who own their own business or who are self employed can also collect lost wages in the form of lost income.

How are lost wages calculated?

Typically we look at the number of hours you missed and multiply that by the amount of money you make each hour. For salaried employees we usually divide the monthly salary by the number of working days in the month and multiply that number by the number of working days missed. For people with consistent schedules lost wages are pretty easy. But sometimes it is more complicated than that.

If you are an hourly employee but have highly variable hours then calculating the number of hours you missed can be complicated. The best scenario is if your employer can produce something showing how many hours they would have scheduled you for if you had not been injured. It is also good for your lost wages claim if we can show you have a history of accepting as many hours as you are given. For example, if we can show you always accept overtime if offered and your employer is willing to state that overtime was available when you were injured, then we should be able to collect the lost overtime wages.

What if I used PTO or vacation days?

If, instead of having a smaller paycheck, you used vacation days or PTO you are still able to recover lost wages. In general if you had the right to not work and still get paid, like PTO or vacation, the loss of the right is considered lost wages. This applies regardless of if your employer offers to buy out your unused PTO or if your vacation days are use-it-or-lose-it.

I work on commission, can I recover lost commissions?

In general, yes you can recover lost commissions. They are not as easy to prove as lost hourly wages or salary but we can still collect them. The best way to collect lost commissions is to show a drop in income month over month. For example, if your commissions for the year averaged $4,000 a month, but you missed one week in April and only earned $3,000, we would have a strong case that your lost commissions are $1,000. If your business is seasonal we can even go back to prior years.

Can a person who is self-employed collect lost wages?

People who are self employed can still collect lost wages, although proving the lost wages claim will be harder. If you are self employed and have a steady flow of business we can compare your income before and after the wreck to show how much you lost. You can also show firm offers of business, such as contracts or inquiries from existing customers, showing that you had the opportunity to earn income but had to turn it down. The same applies for contractors who are between jobs. If you can show that there was a job you were willing and able to take, except that you were injured and had to turn it down, you can collect lost wages for the contract. Let’s look at some examples:

Joe is a self employed plumber. He is struck and injured in a car wreck. Joe is unable to work for a month. Joe has been in business for a while and can show that he usually makes $10,000 a month in income, minus $2,000 a month in expenses, for $8,000 total income (profit). Joe would be able to collect $8,000 in lost business income.  

Mary owns her own catering company. On April 1 Mary is injured in an automobile collision. As a result of injury she suffered she has to cancel a catering job on April 5. She also had to turn down a regular client who asked her to cater an event of April 10. Mary should be able to collect the lost income for the job she had to cancel and the job she had to turn down.

What if I am between jobs or have odd jobs?

People who are unemployed and not working are not able to collect lost wages. If you do not have a single, full time job but string together several smaller, part time jobs then you may be able to collect lost wages. For example, I had a client who was able to show that he made between $400 and $600 a week by doing odd jobs through craigslist. He had been doing this every week for over a year and I was able to collect lost wages for him. While he did not have a consistent employer or job he did have consistent income from working.  

Who determines if I am able to work or not?

The two best people to determine if you are able to work or not are your doctor and your employer. Your doctor will usually give you a note or form that spells out your work restrictions. You would give that form to your employer, who would determine what, if any, job tasks you are able to safely perform. If your injury is severe or long lasting we may also consult an expert to determine what tasks you can and cannot perform.

Different employers have different rules concerning injured workers. If you work in a role that could potentially harm other people (truck driver, heavy machinery operator) do not be surprised if your employer refuses to allow you back to work until you are fully recovered. Other employers may be more accommodating and allow you to change job roles with no change in wages. Because of different companies having different policies concerning injured workers it is important that you ask your employer to document their decision making process.

What if my injuries prevent me from working indefinitely into the future?

Some people suffer permanent disability as a result of an automobile wreck. A disabling injury can permanently reduce your ability to earn income over your life and cost you and your family an enormous amount of money over your lifetime. If you have a disabling injury we would need to consult experts about the extent of your injury and its economic cost in order to determine how much compensation you should receive now to make up for a lifetime of lost earnings.  

If you have lost income because of an automobile collision make sure you are able to fully recover your lost wages. An attorney can make sure your claim is treated fairly and that you are able to recover for all the harms you have suffered. Contact an attorney now for a free consultation. 

DamagesRobert Cairns