Georgia Law Regarding Lost Wages/Income in Injury Lawsuits
As a trial lawyer handling serious injury cases in Georgia, I am frequently asked by clients whether they will be able to recover the income they lost as a result of an injury. Not surprisingly, when someone is seriously injured, he or she may miss significant time from work and, perhaps, be unable to ever return to work. For most families, the loss of a wage-earner’s income is extremely difficult to bear. Fortunately, in connection with injury lawsuits, Georgia law allows the injured party to recover, among other things, the past and future income which has and will be lost.
In addition, Georgia law allows for the recovery of what is known as a loss of earning capacity. As the name implies, this type of damage refers to the loss of someone’s ability to earn his or her living or, in other words, the loss of the capacity to work.
There is an important distinction between lost wages and loss of earning capacity. Generally, lost wages can be quantified, both in terms of how much was lost in the past and how much will be lost in the future. For example, if you make $5,000 per month and missed 2 months of work because of your accident, your past lost wages would be $10,000. (You do not have to discount the amount for taxes under Georgia law). If, at the time of trial, the jury is told that it is likely that you will miss an additional 1 year of work because of your accident, your future lost wages would be $60,000 (12 months x $5,000 per month). Lost wages fall within the category of “special damages” under Georgia law. The name is a bit of a misnomer–there isn’t anything “special” or complex about a lost wage claim. Rather, “special damages” under Georgia law are those which can be assigned a specific numeric value. (Another category would be medical bills–if after a trucking accident your medical bills are $57,546, you can seek that exact amount as part of your “special damages”).
Loss of earning capacity falls under the category of “general damages” – in other words, these sorts of damages are not quantifiable in terms of a particular number. Rather, someone’s loss of earning capacity goes more to the mental state/pain & suffering component of the claim. Specifically, the jury can award whatever figure they feel is reasonable to compensate someone for the loss of the ability to earn a living. In sum, regardless of how much money someone made or would have made, it is “worth” something that an injured person can no longer earn a living as he or she could before the injury–just how much is up to the jury.
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