So you got hurt. Sally was driving her Mack truck down the road, forgot to check her mirrors before switching lanes, and smashed into you. You went flying into the guardrail, where you broke your leg and suffered a severe concussion. Your injuries caused you to miss six weeks of work, for which you were able to use the four weeks of sick leave that you had accumulated. All told, you ended up missing out on two weeks' worth of wages. Since you make right at $1,000 per week, you lost a total of $2,000 in lost income. So you can pursue those lost wages in your personal injury claim, right?
Right! Remember that a plaintiff, harmed by the negligence of another, is entitled to the measure of compensatory damages sufficient to put her in the position she would have been in had the accident never occurred. If you missed work because of your injuries, and you wouldn't have missed work in the absence of those injuries, then North Carolina law does entitle you to the wages you would have earned. So look back at the example above. If you missed six weeks and used four week's of paid sick time, then you're entitled to the other two weeks' worth of lost wages, correct? In this case, $2,000, right?
Well, no. Remember the Collateral Source Rule from last week? It has connotations for lost wages, too. In North Carolina, you'll recall that the law doesn't care if you've already been paid from another source (which includes paid time off in this case). If you were damaged, the law's only requirement is that you be compensated. Therefore, in looking at the above example, you're able to claim six weeks' lost wages despite the fact that you were already paid for four of them.
So that's all well and good. We know that you're entitled to your lost wages, and we know the amount of those lost wages. But how do you go about actually claiming them? What are you going to need? To start, you want to make sure that you have a doctor's note directing you to take time off from work. Otherwise, the adjuster is probably going to claim that you just decided not to go in on those days. You'll also need a confirmation from your employer that you did, in fact, miss the amount of time that you claim. This confirmation, or verification, should include your name, your position, your wages, the amount of time that you missed, and the total amount of wages that you lost. It should also be signed by your employer.
So what if you're not an employee of anybody? What if you're an entrepreneur or a business owner yourself? Well, in that case the plot thickens. Obviously a lost wage verification from yourself wouldn't carry a whole lot of credibility. So in this case, you're going to need financial reports, (preferably) several years of tax records, any contracts or invoices tending to show the type and amount of income you lost, and any other documentation that might be relevant. I want to warn you that proving lost income as a business owner can be really difficult. Like I tell my clients in these cases, make that that you over-document everything. You may not end up needing all of it, but it's one of those things where it's better to have it and not need it than vice versa.
There are also going to be situations where you might have permanent injuries that limit or eliminate your ability to earn wages in the future. For those issues, we're going to need a separate article. Stay tuned!