Ideally, people who are injured in accidents could take all the time they need to heal before returning to work. But we don’t live in an ideal world. Depending on your insurance and other possible coverage, you will probably have to work before you feel 100 percent.
This chapter covers:
What are my options if I can’t work yet?
When should I go back to work?
What is included in the “lost wages” that I can claim as part of my damages?
What Are My Options if I Can’t Work Yet?
If you sustained significant injuries in an auto accident – even if you’re the victim of someone else’s negligence – no one is going to step up and pay your lost wages or health care bills for quite some time. The other driver’s insurance company can take months or even years before covering your expenses. Here are some ways to avoid lost wages for the short-term:
You may be able to use your sick leave and vacation time. These are your first line of defense. (You may be reimbursed for the lost value; see below.)
If you’re lucky enough to have short-term disability insurance, use it! However, most of those policies wait at least two weeks and sometimes more than a month before they kick in.
Some companies allow co-workers to donate their own sick leave and vacation time to a “bank” of hours that you may use for your recovery. Have a friend check it out on your behalf.
If you require more time to heal, you may be able to protect your job under the Family Medical Leave Act. However, this does not provide a salary; it simply protects your job until you can return.
If you’ve been the victim of someone else’s bad driving, you can’t expect insurance companies to write you a check until your entire case is settled. That can take months or even years
When Should I Go Back to Work?
Bottom line: Unless you are catastrophically injured, you need to get back to work as soon as possible so that you can pay your bills. You may be able to get a note from your doctor with restrictions on the kind of work you can do (for example, no lifting or shorter hours) but the sooner you can get back to work, the better.
This can be a tricky balance for some people. You don’t want to re-injure yourself on the job, but you risk missed payments and credit issues if you delay returning to work. Just remember that, if you’ve been the victim of someone else’s bad driving, you can’t expect insurance companies to write you a check until your entire case is settled. That can take months or even years.
If you are medically unable to work, or if your abilities are limited in any way, you must get a note from a doctor saying exactly that. The other driver’s insurance company will require that document when paying your damages and your employer will require it for compliance with the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) and for short-term disability insurance.
What is Included in the “Lost Wages” That I Can Claim as Part of My Damages?
If you use vacation or sick time during your recovery, that lost time would be included in your damages and submitted to the at-fault driver’s insurance company. Of course, the wages you should have earned during your absence are included in your damages, as well. It is important to document all the time you missed from work.
Even if you receive disability payments, those typically only cover three-fourths, or some other percentage, of your salary. When settling your case, your attorney can make sure you also receive the missing one-fourth of your salary that you never received.
Going back to work after an accident can be difficult for some people, but for others it can be a relief. Try to get back as soon as possible.
And here’s one final word on the topic: Get yourself some disability insurance.