Determining Loss of Future Earnings in Personal Injury Cases
In a personal injury lawsuit involving an injury or death, damages come in many forms, including medical bills, lost wages, pain and suffering and loss of future earnings. The latter is perhaps the most difficult to determine. However, determining the loss of future earnings because of an injury or death can certainly provide some financial security for the victims themselves, or survivors of the deceased. The courts have already offered some guidelines to determining loss of future earnings, based on past cases.
The loss of earnings must not be speculative, or based upon a mere ambition for advancement. In the case of Christou v. Arlington Park-Washington Race Tracks Corp., a man was injured at a racetrack when he was pushed by a crowd into the building’s plate glass door. Because the door did not have safety glass, he suffered serious injuries that affected his ability to continue his employment as a bartender. However, the man requested compensation in lost future wages as a restaurant owner, since his ambition was to become a restaurateur. Since the man did not yet own a restaurant, the court cited the testimony as remote and speculative, and therefore, improper in determining the man’s future earnings. The man received future earnings based on his current salary as a bartender.
The loss of earnings must be reasonably certain to occur. In Carlson v. City Const. Co., a traffic worker was struck and killed by a car. His widow asked not only for compensation for her husband’s current earnings, but future earnings as an engineer, since he had taken steps to become one. The man had finished his GED and was proficient in math. He had filled out an application for financial assistance to attend college, but at the time of death, he had never submitted it to any school. He had not attended, nor applied to or been accepted by a college, nor was there a way to determine if he would have been successful in school, had he been accepted, or if he would have actually finished an engineering degree. Therefore, the court ruled “there was little evidence to establish with any degree of reasonable certainty that he could or would have become an engineer”, and did not consider future earnings as an engineer in the settlement.
In regards to anticipated loss of earnings, the plaintiff must determine that the party had the ability and opportunity to realize a higher earning potential. Typically, this involves the testimony of an expert witness. In the case of Lorenz v. Air Illinois, which demonstrates this well, a college professor on a fast track to becoming dean perished in an airplane accident. His widow and two daughters were seeking compensation for his future earnings as a dean at the university. The former dean of the school testified that if the deceased had lived, he would have become dean. The evidence showed the deceased possessed a bachelor’s degree, a master’s degree, and a Ph.D. from the University of Wisconsin and at the time of his death, was in excellent health, and a full professor and director of the rehabilitation institute at his university.
He taught and administered programs involving academics, rehabilitation of the handicapped, and child abuse. The court was convinced that becoming dean of the university was not merely an “ambition” of the deceased’s, but rather a goal.
The easier it is to establish a solid likelihood of future earning potential for a victim, the easier it will be to obtain a loss of earnings settlement. If you are planning to seek loss of earnings in your personal injury case, Gardi & Haught Ltd. can help. Contact Tom at 847-944-9400 or firstname.lastname@example.org.