According to North Carolina personal injury law, a victim of negligence is entitled to recover lost wages incurred as a result of their injury and/or treatment. Unfortunately, this is one area where insurance companies and claims adjusters really take advantage of injured victims. When negotiating claims, many adjusters will ignore obvious lost wages claims unless pressed by the victim, or will reject the legitimate lost wage claims and fail to disclose the rejection in the negotiation.
Even when the claims are accepted, insurance companies often deduct absurd amounts from the claims based upon what they believe you should actually recover. Having practiced personal injury law in Raleigh for over fourteen years, I have seen this many, many times. It is up to the injured victim to press the claim hard and keep the insurance companies honest when making a claim for lost wages in a North Carolina personal injury claim.
What are Lost Wage Claims?
Lost wages claims are commonly referred to as compensatory or special damages. Compensatory damages are the broad measure of damages which should be paid to an accident victim to “make the victim whole” per North Carolina personal injury law. Compensatory damages would include pain and suffering, which is not easy to measure or quantify, and it would also include medical expenses, which are easier to quantify. The “special” or actual damages portion of a compensatory damage claim are exact money damages suffered such as bills for medical treatment and lost wages. Had you not been injured, you would have worked and made X dollars, and therefore in order to make you “whole” (in the same position you would be save for the injury) you need to be repaid your lost wages and medical expenses. In the broader measure of damages referred to as compensatory, we have to attempt to assign a value to the pain and suffering of a human being for an injury, which is never easy. There are many ways to do it, but all of them require putting a dollar amount on the physical pain and suffering a real person has endured – and unfortunately as human beings and a court system, this is all we can do.
Understanding the Lost Wage Claim Process
Most people are not surprised to learn that it is difficult to see eye to eye with an insurance company about the value of pain and suffering. Being unable to stand up straight without pain in your back or your legs for the rest of your life may seem like a big deal to some people, but some insurance adjusters would view that as a minor injury, or something that “probably would have happened anyway”. Lets use a pretty common injury as an example. A broken sternum, or “breast bone” as it is often referred, occurs quite often in automobile accidents today due to airbag deployments. How much is such an injury worth? Imagine yourself on your way home from a hard days work to pick up your kids or hang out with friends. You have a million things to do in the next few days and your mind is on all of them. Suddenly, as you wait patiently as a stoplight, someone comes flying out of no where while playing Angry Birds on their phone, runs a red light and slams into you. You are violently thrown around your car, and you hear an explosion and the sound of squealing tires and crushing metal. The pain in your chest is sudden and intense. Its hard to breath. You go the ER and after ruling out a heart attack you are diagnosed with a non-displaced fractured sternum and a lot of other bruising. You miss two months of work. You take pain medication, cannot stand or sit in the same position for longer than ten minutes for a month, and are unable to pick up a child or hug your spouse without pain for two months. You cannot lift anything, or move normally. You lose sleep, add a few pounds and spend countless hours trying to find a comfortable position to breath. There are no breaks, no time outs, and you are fairly helpless for a long time.
Finally, after you have made a full recovery, you make your claim with the insurance company. You send the nice adjuster all of the information on your accident and medical condition. You send in your pay stubs and a letter from your employer as well as a copy of the physicians order which kept you out of work for two months. Then you negotiate. Numbers go back and forth, and you are amazed to find out after a few weeks that this nice adjuster is offering you about three or four thousand dollars on top of the money you actually paid out or were unable to earn. Three thousand dollars for breaking a bone in your chest and sitting at home in intense pain for two months. Now there may have been a time for all of us when we would have thought about letting someone break our sternum in exchange for three thousand dollars, but shortly after your 15th birthday we have all realized what a horrible bargain that would be. I will not preach to you about how short life is, or how much would you really take to per day or per hour to be in that kind of pain, but I could. Lets look the lost wages aspect.
In many cases, these low ball offers are the result of a combination of factors which include insurance company efforts to dissuade people from hiring an experienced personal injury lawyer to evaluate their case. They settle cases cheaper when victims are unrepresented, and the victims get less money in their pocket as a result. In many cases such as this one, the insurance company would have valued the case based upon secretive computer or company models. An unrepresented person with this injury, these medical treatments, and this period of expected recovery placed into the system and out pops the fair settlement number. Not very comforting. While most adjusters are happy if you to forget to bring up your lost wages claim, others will put it into the system and after the mystery calculation, the lost wages amount comes out with a reduction of 30, 40 or even 50%. Why? Well when attorneys catch them doing this, their responses usually comes out as some mumbling about taxes and overtime or how they are only “allowed” to pay base hourly or x amount for this job or some other such hogwash. The fact is that they always, in my experience, try to remove taxes as if they were the government. Do they pay them for you? Of course not. They just pocket the savings and let you deal with Uncle Sam. I do not have time to go into all of the excuses I have heard in this article, however suffice it to say that they should not be deducting your health insurance, social security, shift differential, standard overtime pay, or any other amounts you would have normally made. And let me repeat clearly here, they will almost never volunteer that they have reduced your lost wages claim in such a high handed manner.
Consult with a Raleigh Personal Injury Lawyer
What does this mean for the injured victim? Get a breakdown of how they come up with any settlement offers. How much are they agreeing they owe you for medical treatment/bills, lost wages, and how much is left over, if any. The best advice is of course to hire an attorney to work for you. You will be informed, and you will have someone in your corner that knows the tricks used by insurance companies and how to get to a fair settlement because as a personal injury lawyer, I know that unless they come to the table with a reasonable settlement, I am going to take that case to a jury to decide and there mystery damage calculator won’t be able to say a thing about it.
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