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A Main Line Vision Loss Attorney Discusses Loss of Earnings

Have you ever wondered, after hearing about a multi-million dollar jury verdict, about the fairness of the jury? Have you questioned whether any injury could be so severe as to justify such a verdict? The reasoning behind large jury verdicts often can be found in loss of future earning capacity.

Compensation for pain and suffering represents only one of several elements a jury must consider when deciding on a total monetary award. If the plaintiff has suffered lost earning capacity, these economic damages may far exceed compensation for pain and suffering. Economic damages may include lost earnings, retirement benefits, profit sharing, and health care coverage, and other benefits lost due to the inability to work.

A person who has suffered an eye injury may no longer be able to work. An economist and a vocational expert may have to testify. This testimony will cover the types of work available and appropriate for the vision injury victim and the actual economic losses suffered because they can no longer do their job. Or, you may be able to continue to work, but only at a reduced level of efficiency. This may result in a slower rate of growth in earnings and benefits over the course of a career. These losses can be measured and proven at trial through the testimony of an economist. When projected over an entire career, they can be very large.

Two examples will help illustrate how rapidly these economic losses can add up.

John, age 35, suffered blurriness and loss of visual acuity and, due to his disability, was laid off from his job. Even though he immediately found another position, he claimed losses in excess of $500,000. The new job offered fewer responsibilities, smaller wage increases, and slower potential for promotions. His retirement and medical benefits were reduced, as were his disability insurance and unemployment compensation coverage.

The numbers began to grow when the reduced earnings and slower potential for promotions were projected over the course of an entire career. Although the annual losses suffered by John are relatively small, the claim becomes quite large when projected over 30 years.

Brian missed a semester of school because of an eye injury. He claimed reimbursement from the defendant for lost tuition payments. His compensable losses go far beyond simple out-of-pocket losses. The lost semester will result in a one-year delay in the start of his career. Not only will he lose a year of earnings and benefits, that year would have been one of his most productive.

If not for the accident, Brian would have earned $45,000 in 2010. That year represents year one in his career. Because of the accident, Brian will earn $45,000 in 2011, which is his new first year. If not for the accident, Brian’s salary for 2011 would have been $48,000. This loss will continue every year until retirement.

The year that is lost forever is the last year Brian would have worked. The salary and benefits during that last year are perhaps the most lucrative of his work life. This can be proven through expert economic testimony.

A homemaker can also expect compensation if the ability to render his or her usual household services is reduced by the eye injury. The value of household services depends on the person’s age, gender, and employment status. An economist can be expected to testify that the loss of household services for a retired male is approximately $9,000 per year. This is supported by the study out of Cornell University by Drs. Gauger and Walker entitled The Dollar Value of Household Work. This is an authoritative study relied on by economists. There are other studies that are more liberal and may support even higher numbers. For example, Drs. Martin and Vavoulis in 2002 authored a study entitled Determining Economic Damages. These two studies provide a good idea of the value of your household losses.

Typically, the defense retains an economic expert and a vocational expert to rebut these claims. The defendant’s economist may question whether the plaintiff actually lost benefits, salary, ability to perform household services, etc. The defendant’s vocational expert will have a different opinion from the plaintiff’s vocational expert as to the availability of alternative careers. Both sides present to the jury their view of the economic losses. The jury decides which is more credible.

If your client has suffered even a seemingly small loss of earnings due to an eye injury, you need to prove these damages. That insignificant aspect of the claim can turn out to be the most important element.

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