Post-injury earnings are the earnings and benefits the injured person has received since the date of the injury as well as what they are projected to receive in the future. Their actual earnings after the injury are documented in tax documents, pay statements and personal accounts of earnings. Each injury impacts someone’s work differently, so a combination of earnings history, vocational reports, and public data provide further insight into their projected post-injury and non-injury earnings and benefits.
The earnings and benefits they have received since the injury should be reviewed in the same manner as the earnings and benefits they received prior to the injury. As outlined in step 1, review the W-2s, 1099s, pay statements, tax returns, and employee handbooks for the time from their injury through the present. If they have not been able to return to work since the injury, there may be no earnings to assess.
Projections of the injured person’s future post-injury earnings and benefits vary greatly from case to case. They may have already recovered fully and returned to work. In other cases, they may not have yet returned to work (or have returned part-time) but anticipate returning to work full-time in the future. And in other cases, the injured person is expected to never work again. Each injury has a different impact on a person’s earnings potential and should be evaluated in the specific context of that individual. Vocational experts in particular provide timelines of expected recovery, as well as assess the impact the injury will have on job tasks, positions and earnings for which the injured person may now be eligible.
Once a person’s future post-injury earnings capacity is evaluated, project those earnings and benefits through the length of anticipated losses. This projection accounts for the increases to earnings and benefits they are expected to experience now that the injury has occurred. Generally, a growth rate is applied to account for these projected increases. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) data is most commonly utilized to determine earnings and benefits growth rates, and can be used to analyze historical growth within an occupation, industry, or education level. You can learn more about the BLS here.
It’s important to note that a vocational expert’s impairment rating does not directly correlate with their earnings capacity. For example, a college-educated person working in finance may lose the loss of their legs and have a 50% impairment rating, but still be able to work the same job and earn the same amount as they did prior to their injury. Conversely, someone working in construction without a high school diploma with the same injury and impairment rating may be completely and permanently unable to return to the work they performed before. Each injury and individual should be evaluated separately.