This is the fourth and final article in a series of discussions on what delays or slows down settlement of serious Maryland personal injury and malpractice claims. The previous chapters have discussed confusing aspects of the settlement process.
On occasion our clients are involved in vehicle crashes and events that produce dire injuries and sometimes result in fatalities.
Often in these cases, liability or legal responsibility is abundantly clear and the inevitable question is why hasn't the insurance company settled? The previous articles have discussed how internal processes in the insurance industry itself slow things down. https://www.maryland-law.com/library/serious-maryland-injury-cases-take-time-to-settle-part-1.cfm.
How obtaining all the medical bills and records can be very difficult but necessary and how that delays resolution. https://www.maryland-law.com/library/serious-maryland-injury-cases-take-time-to-settle-part-ii.cfm.
And finally how liens and outstanding medical bill balances take additional time to work out.https://www.maryland-law.com/library/serious-maryland-cases-take-time-to-settle-part-iii-liens.cfm
Today we focus on lost wage or lost income claims and the problems that they routinely create in serious and catastrophic car accident and medical malpractice cases. To be clear there are many routine lost wage claims buttressed by doctor's records recommending time off from employment for specific reasons and time periods. These doctor's records in conjunction with employment records and pay stubs can easily and sufficiently support lost income such that the insurance companies have no room to complain.
Things get trickier when longer periods of lost time come into play and/or victims of personal injury seek payment for pay increases or bonuses they believe they would have received but for the injurious events. Claims get trickier still when the accident related injuries result in a permanent inability to continue in a particular line of work or to work at all.
Again, it is perfectly understandable why a person who loses a limb or is permanently physically impaired would think that it is obvious that they can't continue to work at all manner of jobs. That does not however mean that the insurance industry will see things that way.
So what do insurance companies accept as valid proof of past and future lost wages or other income? The answer is an assortment of things.
Prior years tax returns are helpful in illustrating what the victim of a truck or car crash made before the injurious incident. For example if Serena made $45,000.00 in 2017 and $50,000.00 in 2018 and is involved in a 2019 crash, and her 2019 tax returns reflect decreased income, it is useful to show her likely income loss in 2019 as a result of the collision. Pay stubs, W-2s, and 1099s can show what one was making immediately before an injury.
So a mix of present day payroll information coupled with tax returns indicating less income is a straightforward way to support wake or income loss. If the injured party is also asserting loss of a pay increase or bonus, it is often essential to provide independent confirmation that such a pay increase or bonus was inevitable but for the crash and resultant period of disability.
At Clark and Steinhorn. LLC we often obtain letters from employers and supervisors spelling out the effects of the crash injuries on employment, including information on bonuses and pay increases. Some union contracts spell out pay increases and can be quite useful.
Periodically we confront situations where our client has accepted a new job but has delayed starting due to the accident injuries. Again letters from the prospective employer are beneficial and/or documentation of a job offer for which acceptance is delayed. Sometimes our client sustains injuries that foreclose their acceptance of a new job or promotion and supporting this income loss requires a mix of doctor's reports limiting the victim's activities and a job description spelling out the physical requirements of the new job, which together make obvious that the injured party cannot perform the required activities.
The larger issues involve injuries that altogether preclude working in a particular field that otherwise pays better than employment that is within the physical capabilities of the post-accident client or instances where the client is utterly unable to work.
For example, we have represented many car and truck crash victims who have sustained neck and back injuries that make them unable to perform physically demanding activities that were not a problem until the collision. As in some earlier examples, a combination of medical information spelling out the extent of one's physical limitations coupled with documentation of the demands of their employment, can serve to illustrate the fact that a particular job is no longer feasible to perform as a result of an accident.
Thus, Serena can no longer work as a meat cutter because of injuries to her neck and back that make lifting activities impossible. She is no longer entitled to make $25.00 per hour as a meat cutter but must work at a less physically demanding job making less. It is relatively easy to project that she loses a certain amount per hour for the rest of her working life.
This relatively straightforward example still involves analysis of how long Serena intended to work and whether she might leave her work at Giant Food to do something else more lucrative. Believe me that insurance companies will nitpick such claims suggesting that she might only work until 62 instead of 65 etc.
This example may also founder on claims involving the value of associated benefits which can include retirement contributions, prospective pay increases, health and dental benefits and a host of other matters. Such losses often require detailed analysis both as to their extent and also as to the most effective way to explain them.
Similarly, some very serious injuries such as paraplegia, quadriplegia, and loss of limbs, may foreclose all but a very few areas of employment and what someone can and can't do is often an area for insurance company disagreement.
The most problematic lost income or wage claims concern instances where the crash victim has a future career path that is interrupted partially or completely by injury. College students who intend to go to medical school and yet sustain serious injuries that preclude the physical demands of being a physician, lose out on potentially lucrative and rewarding careers but the uncertainty associated with making the cut to even get into medical school, makes this an area rife for disputation.
In those instances where there is agreement that a particular injury eliminates a career path that seemed to be within reach for someone, disagreements abound about whether the victim would have been a high achieving performer in a particular profession or just normal. This can result in a wide range of lost income projections. Journeyman boilermakers can make more than $40.00 per hours and a boilermaker in the bottom 10% of earnings makes $16.00 per hour. That is a heck of a difference and projected across even one year it is almost $50,000.00.
In such cases an experienced car and truck crash lawyer such as those at Clark and Steinhorn, LLC will employ vocational rehabilitation experts and economists to sensibly explain why an individual client would logically fall into the higher earning category rather than the lower.
There are numerous other reasons why pursuing lost wage and/or income claims can slow down resolution of a given case but the bottom line is that veteran attorneys have seen the pitfalls and perils of failing to anticipate such issues and are the best choice for your serious personal injury case.