Can You Make A Loss Of Income Claim After A Car Accident?
The following is a fictional illustration comprised of facts from several cases we have handled over the years:
Jodi, a single mother, left home at 7:30 in the morning to drop her five year old at daycare. After a kiss goodbye, she again got on the road headed to work as an independent hair stylist. While stopped in traffic, Jodi was rear-ended by a young driver who failed to realize traffic in front of him had stopped. He struck Jodi’s vehicle with considerable force thrusting her vehicle several feet forward into the car in front of her, causing damage to both the front and rear end her car. Consequently, Jodi’s right forearm struck the steering wheel fracturing her ulna (elbow) bone. She also sustained a minor concussion, injury to the soft tissues of her neck (whiplash) and lower back pain.
Jodi’s arm was placed in a hard cast for several weeks and then graduated to a sling. Six months after the accident the fracture was healed and she regained use of her arm. Unfortunately, the injury to her neck and low back persisted. While she continued to improve with time, her medical condition became stationary and she was left with a permanent disability. Jodi fought through the pain and made every effort to return to work. Eventually, however, the injuries prevailed and she was forced to relinquish her hair stylist profession and look for another vocation. With her limited education, a young child to support, and endangered funds she accepted a position as an office receptionist earning thirty percent less than she did before.
As the plaintiff’s advocate, a personal injury lawyer will focus his/her energy on making the victim whole. This includes obtaining compensation for loss of income or wages. Wages, as you might deduce, are typically easier to calculate. If you are earning an hourly rate of $10 and miss one hundred hours due to injuries sustained in a car accident you will be entitled to receive $1,000 in wage loss compensation. Loss of income may be more complex, difficult to identify, and sometimes require expert analysis. This is especially true if the victim is self-employed or an independent contractor.
Jodi’s loss of income claim required an analysis of her previous income and future income potential. As an independent hair stylist Jodi rented a chair at a salon and kept all of her earnings. At the time of the accident she had been working at the same salon for three years. She had developed a loyal client base, which was growing every year. In reviewing her income records it was clear that her income had consistently increased each year. The financial records presented an unequivocal trend suggesting future growth was all but inevitable. The insurance adjuster for the at-fault driver, however, did not agree.
The loss of income claim for Jodi presented the most contentious part of her personal injury settlement. The at-fault driver insurance company wanted to limit Jodi’s compensation to six months (the time it took her arm to heal) and pay her what amounted to an average of what she earned the three years she had been a stylist. We contended that using an average of her three years as a stylist was flawed since it did not accurately reflect the true income she would have earned following the car accident. We further insisted that the loss of her income was not limited to the six month period. An economic and vocational expert presented their reports of Jodi’s true loss of income which included the time she was off of work entirely and her future loss of income given that she could not return to her previous vocation. The insurance adjuster ultimately agreed with our analysis and we were able to successfully settle the claim.
A victim of a car accident is entitled to receive compensation for their loss of income; past, present and future. After all, they wouldn’t have incurred this loss but for the other driver’s negligence. This loss includes the difference of what one would have earned in the future if they were not injured subtracted by what they now can now earn. This may also include a claim for vocational placement and retraining. This may not always be easy to ascertain, but that DOES NOT diminish the victim’s right to fair compensation. Sometimes we just have to fight a little harder!