The purpose of a personal injury claim is to seek compensation for losses caused by an accident or injury. Actual damages are those amounts of loss that were caused directly by the injury and that the injured person would not have had to pay if she had not been injured by the defendant. Medical bills are a classic example of actual damages, but lost wages are also a type of actual damages that a defendant may be expected to pay if he is held liable for a plaintiff’s injuries.
When a plaintiff is injured in a personal injury accident, she may need time off work to heal from her injuries. If the injuries are serious or surgery is required, the injured person may need weeks or even months to recover enough mobility and strength to return to work.
Unfortunately, for many people, lost time from work means lost wages. Although laws such as the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) require some employers to hold a worker’s job for her if she must take time off to heal from an injury or illness, these laws do not generally require employers to pay workers who are on medical leave, and they only require employers to hold a worker’s job for a certain number of days or weeks. Even if an injured person has a job to return to and is able to go back to her old work, the time she spent recovering from her injury is time for which she may not have been paid.
The amount of lost wages an injured person may be able to recover depends on the facts of her case and her employment. For some people, including those who work set hours or for a salary, calculating lost wages is as simple as counting the number of days of work the injured person missed, including half-days or partial days, and multiplying the number of missed days by the amount the person would ordinarily have earned for a day of work. This number may then be presented to the court as evidence of the lost wages amount that should be included when the judge or jury calculates the total amount of damages.
For workers whose hours change weekly, who are self-employed, or who work multiple jobs, calculating lost wages can be more difficult. The injured person and her attorney may need to present evidence of what the injured person would ordinarily have earned, on average, over a similar time period, or of what work the injured person was scheduled to do or would have been offered, but was unable to complete due to her injuries. Although the calculations may be more difficult, a dollar amount for wages already lost can usually be determined in most personal injury cases.
When an injury is severe, however, lost wages may continue into the injured person’s future life, especially if she suffered permanent impairment or disabilities from the injury that prevent her from doing the kind of work she did before she was injured. In these cases, the testimony of an expert witness may be required to show how much the injured person could reasonably have been expected to earn over the course of her life, and how that amount has been reduced or eliminated by her injuries.