Car accidents in Colorado affect thousands of drivers every year, and the long-term impact of injuries can cause financial hardship in various ways as a result. Unfortunately, one of the worst losses a crash victim faces is the loss of wages due to having to take an extended absence from their career to heal. While state law does recognize that accident survivors should receive compensation for wages lost because of their injuries, many don’t know where to begin the process of recovering this compensation.
No job the same, and neither is how people get paid for their work. Understanding which wages can be part of a personal injury lawsuit is essential when determining how much financial compensation is due after losing work time because of accident injuries.
The term “wages” refers to all monies you would have earned at work if not injured. This can include:
- Base salary
- Hourly wages lost based on a usual work schedule
- Bonuses and commissions you would have earned
- Projected earnings you could have expected if not absent
- Vacation and Sick leave used for injury-related care
Lost wages are not limited to traditional employment setting, either. Business owners and freelancers can recover lost earnings as well. The bottom line is that if you lost income because of your car accident, we can ask for that to be included in an insurance settlement.
Colorado is a “modified comparative negligence” state. This means that depending on how much of the accident was your fault will determine how much of your lost wages you are entitled to.
Under state law, a party determined to have 50% more of the fault in an accident forfeits their right to compensation for injuries. Unfortunately, this means that if you are 50% or more at fault in causing the accident, you will not be able to recover any damages, including lost wages. In cases where the other driver is 50% at fault or more, then you could pursue wage loss compensation through that person’s insurance company, minus any of your own percentage of fault.
Example: Sarah works as a forklift operator in a factory. Sarah is injured when she slips in spilled barbecue sauce at the grocery store and fractures her elbow. Because of her injury, Sarah is out of work for 6 weeks while her elbow heals. Her lost wages for those 6 weeks total $5,000. The grocery store argues that Sarah should have been able to see the spilled barbecue sauce and avoid stepping in it. At trial, the jury determines that the grocery store is 75% at fault for not cleaning the spilled sauce, and Sarah is 25% at fault for not watching her step. The grocery store must pay Sarah $3,750 for her lost wages.
The State of Colorado requires proof of the earnings lost while off work due to your injuries. For auto crash victims who only miss work for a short period, this is relatively easy. When an injured party is unable to work for an extended amount of time, they may lose career advancement opportunities, performance bonuses, and other special income. An experienced accident attorney may be best for putting together that kind of claim. Crystal clear evidence is a must when trying to recoup lost wages, and a lawyer will have the resources to help make this possible, such as hiring an occupational expert to demonstrate what business trajectory you were on before the accident incapacitated you.
Generally, you can make your claim for lost wages using a combination of the below options as evidence:
One concrete way of proving your lost wages is submitting previous pay stubs with your claim. If you don’t keep them, contact your payroll officer or ask your attorney to help you obtain copies.
Another surefire way to prove the level of income you had and then lost because of your injuries are tax returns from previous years. Getting copies is as easy as calling your accountant or submitting an IRS Form 4506, available at www.irs.gov.
Your employer is one of your best resources for evidence of your lost earnings after your car accident and should be easy to obtain, as well. Your boss or payroll supervisor can write a letter outlining the below details:
- Job role
- Hourly rate or base salary
- Overtime you normally receive
- Commissions or other bonuses you would have received
- Time off of work due to injuries
If you are in the service industry where tips generate a large portion of your income, working with your employer to document your tip income is crucial. Much like a statement of lost wages, your employer can print out of the amount of tips you commonly claim during an average week and any bonuses you would have earned.
Some employers have a “use them or lose them” policy, and if you are laid off from work due to injury, you may not be allowed to use these days. If you are off work long enough to pass the deadline to take advantage of them, it may be possible include these lost days in your claim. Just make sure to ask your HR manager for the company policy regarding the use of paid leave days.
Speculative income can be challenging to prove without the right evidence. Your boss will need to help you in creating a statement that explains all sources of your compensation from your company, including overtime, bonuses, and commissions you usually receive. Another good way of proving these kinds of losses are to show a pattern of income from before the injury. Submitting past pay stubs from 3-5 years before the injury is a good way of demonstrating the type of income you could have expected to receive if you had not been injured.
Another aspect of lost income many forget about is their retirement accounts like a 401(K). Contributions are based on your earnings, but you are losing valuable contribution opportunities if you are laid off due to injury. Contact your payroll coordinator or HR manager to request a statement showing how much you normally pay into your retirement account each pay cycle and how much investment value is lost while unable to work.
If you have lost weeks, months, or even years of wages because of another driver’s negligence, contact our office today. We can help you form a claim and pursue the lost income you are rightfully due.