After a serious injury, you may not be able to work for weeks or months. In some cases, your injuries may be so severe that you will not be able to return to work. If your injuries were caused by a medical error, the doctors involved should be held accountable for your lost income.
How do you calculate lost wages from a medical malpractice injury? Calculating lost wages from a personal injury or medical malpractice accident is an important part of your total damages. The total damages involved give the jury a basis for determining how much to award in a medical malpractice lawsuit.
If you have questions about how much you can recover in lost wages, contact experienced medical malpractice trial attorneys to help you recover money for your losses.
What Damages Are Included in a Medical Malpractice Case?
Damages are the losses associated with a civil lawsuit, including medical malpractice and personal injury claims. Damages in a medical malpractice case are based on “compensatory damages.” Compensatory damages are used to compensate someone to put them back into a similar position they would have been if the accident had never happened.
Compensatory damages are generally based on both economic damages and non-economic damages. Non-economic damages can involve losses that don’t have a clear value, like emotional distress, pain and suffering, or loss of enjoyment in life. Economic damages are for financial losses, which include medical bills, future medical expenses, and lost wages.
If you suffered a medical injury and fully recovered and were able to return to your regular job, your economic damages may include only the past losses, which include medical bills and the money you were not able to earn when you were injured.
However, if you have a permanent disability or continuing medical condition caused by the medical error, your economic damages may include past, continuing, and future losses. Calculating these damages may include estimating future medical expenses and loss of income for the remaining time you would have worked if you hadn’t been injured.
What Are Lost Wages and Loss of Income Potential?
Lost wages damages are for the lost income that you did not receive because you were injured. Loss of income potential may include future lost earnings if you continue to be unable to work. Lost wages are generally based on your current earnings. Loss of future income may be based on an estimate of how much you would have made if you were able to continue working.
Calculating Lost Wages for Economic Damages
For most short-term injuries, calculating lost wages is relatively simple. You take your wages before the accident and multiply those for the time off of work to get the lost wages.
For example, a manager at a retail store was making $2,000/week in salary. The manager went to get a minor surgery but suffered a hospital-acquired infection (HAI), and had to be hospitalized for 4 weeks. The manager returned home and had to rest for another 2 weeks before they were able to return to work. The manager’s lost wages could be calculated as 6 weeks x $2,000/week for total lost wages of $12,000.
Additional lost wages may include other workplace benefits, such as loss of overtime, loss of benefits, and loss of employer contributions to a retirement account. Other jobs may be more complex, such as jobs where an employee works on commission or the individual is self-employed. Other factors in lost wages may include lost bonuses, loss of commission, and lost business.
For example, a self-employed furniture builder may have had a contract to deliver $5,000 worth of chairs by June 1st. If they were injured by a medical mistake and were unable to complete the job, they may have a financial loss of $5,000 if they were unable to complete the contract because of the injury.
Long-term injuries may have additional calculations for lost wages, including inflation. If an employee was out of work for a year or more, they may also have missed out on raises or advancement opportunities. To show these additional losses, the injury victim may have to show additional evidence to support their claim, such as multiple years worth of earnings statements, employee reviews, or even testimony from the employer.
Calculating Future Lost Wages
Calculating future lost wages is more complicated than showing past lost wages. Future loss of earnings may be more speculative. It can depend on several factors, including:
- Age of injury victim
- Education level
- Job and profession
- Income level
- Employment benefits
- Business ownership
- Future economic outlook
For example, a factory worker making $150,000 per year may have suffered an injury caused by a medical misdiagnosis. The worker may have been planning to work only one more year before retirement. The future lost wages may be based on their prior salary, plus any additional losses for lost benefits, inflation, cost-of-living increases, or bonuses.
Alternatively, a 20-year-old student is in their last year of flight school. The prospective pilot already has a tentative job offer as a pilot for $100,000. The student was injured because of an anesthesia error and lost their eyesight. The student will no longer be able to become a commercial pilot.
Calculating the future losses of earning capacity for younger injury victims may be very speculative because the student has no history of income as a pilot to provide a basis for lost income. Instead, lost income potential may include estimates of the average salary, average retirement age, and reasonable income the student will be able to earn with their disability. In these situations, future loss of earning potential may amount to millions of dollars in losses.
How Are Future Lost Wages Calculated?
Future lost wages can be difficult to calculate, especially for younger injury victims. In a medical malpractice lawsuit, the parties often use actuarial expert witnesses to come up with an estimate of the injury victim’s loss of earning potential to show the victim’s economic damages. Experts include forensic economists and financial analysts. These experts use statistics and analysis to estimate risks, values, and losses.
These estimates take into account several factors and often come up with a range of estimates. The ranges generally include a high estimate, low estimate, and median estimate. The jury uses this information to determine how much to award the injury victim. Factors that go into calculating future loss of earning capacity include:
- Worker’s skills, education, and abilities
- Market value and wage rates
- Geographic location
- Wage growth
- Life cycle adjustments
- Time value of money
- Earnings offsets
- Job benefits
Calculating Loss of Future Earnings for Fatal Accidents
If the injury victim suffers a fatal accident because of medical malpractice, the family may be left without a source of income. The injury victim’s spouse, children, or other family members may be able to recover compensation through a wrongful death lawsuit. A wrongful death lawsuit can help the estate recover damages for loss of support as a result of their loved one’s death.
Calculating loss of future earnings for fatal accidents is different from calculating lost earnings for someone who is still alive. If the injury victim can no longer do their job, they may still be able to reasonably earn an income doing another job. However, when someone is killed, they are no longer able to make any kind of earnings. There are models to calculate the loss of future earnings for fatal accidents, involving estimating income projections and personal consumption expenditures.
What Documents Do I Need to Show Lost Wages?
Discovery is a part of civil litigation where the parties exchange information, including depositions with the parties, interrogatories to get answers to specific questions, and documents. To show lost wages, the injury victim may need to provide evidence to support their claim for economic damages. Documents that can show your lost wages may include:
- Income tax returns
- Payroll records
- Employment records
- Income records from prior years
- Record of benefits
Is There a Cap on Lost Wages?
Some states have a cap on certain types of damages. However, there are generally no caps on economic damages, including lost wages. There should not be a damages cap on economic wages because the injury victim can show evidence of a very specific financial loss caused by the doctor’s negligence.
States that have damages caps generally only limit non-economic damages, like pain and suffering. States are split about 50/50 with states that have caps on non-economic damages and states without caps. The courts in some of these states have actually found caps to be unconstitutional and have prohibited these caps.
One of the states with a cap on non-economic damages in medical malpractice lawsuits is Maryland. Under Maryland Courts and Judicial Procedures § 3-2A-09, the limitation on noneconomic damages “shall apply in the aggregate to all claims for personal injury and wrongful death arising from the same medical injury, regardless of the number of claims, claimants, plaintiffs, beneficiaries, or defendants.”
For example, if a jury awarded a victim of medical malpractice $3 million in economic damages and $2 million in non-economic damages, the judge would just cut the non-economic damages down to the cap and the jury wouldn’t even know about it. These caps can punish injury victims who are left suffering severe injuries through no fault of their own while negligent doctors can benefit from knowing they will only have to pay a limited amount for their negligence.
What Are Other Damages in a Medical Malpractice Lawsuit?
Lost wages only account for a part of your total damages. Another significant economic damages calculation involves medical bills. Medical care in the United States is very expensive. An emergency surgery and long hospital stay can cost more than $1 million. Even minor procedures may wipe out a patient’s savings, especially if their insurance does not cover the full cost of care.
Medical expenses, including future medical costs, are part of the economic damages in a medical malpractice case. Medical expenses can be shown by providing copies of medical bills, receipts for medical expenses, and estimates for future medical care. Like future loss of earning capacity, future medical expenses generally involve a life care planning expert estimating the future costs of treating the patient’s injuries and medical conditions.
Non-economic damages can include losses like emotional distress, pain and suffering, and loss of consortium. These losses may be supported by evidence that gives the jury an understanding of what the injury victim has to go through because of an injury that was not their fault. For example, day-in-the-life diaries may show what it is like for the injury victim to have to deal with the day-to-day reality of their injuries.
Another type of damages in a civil lawsuit is punitive damages. Punitive damages are not to compensate for losses but to punish the defendant for their actions. Punitive damages in medical malpractice cases are very rare. Punitive damages generally do not follow from negligence. Instead, to get punitive damages the plaintiff generally has to show the defendant acted intentionally or with reckless disregard for the victim’s life.
File a Medical Malpractice Lawsuit to Recover Lost Wages
A medical malpractice lawsuit can start the process to help you recover damages for your injuries, including lost wages, medical bills, and any future losses caused by medical negligence. Make sure you reach out as soon as you can because there is a time limit for filing a medical malpractice case. The time limit for filing a lawsuit is different in every state and if you file too late, you may lose out on any chance to recover damages.
If the hospital or doctor offers you a quick settlement, make sure you understand your legal rights before accepting any settlement. Once you sign away your rights, you lose your right to sue. Talk to an experienced medical malpractice attorney about the full value of your case, including future loss of earning capacity and your future medical expenses.
An experienced medical malpractice attorney will help evaluate your claim, explain your options, and fight to get you the maximum compensation available for your injuries. If you want to know about your legal options for recovering compensation for your injuries, contact an experienced legal defense team for a case evaluation. Do not hesitate to contact Gilman & Bedigian today for a free consultation.