To determine what an individual was capable of earning had an injury or death not occurred, as well as what they have earned and what they are capable of earning after an injury, you should start by reviewing the earnings and benefits documents they received. Tax and employment documents provide insight into their earnings, and employee handbooks and contribution descriptions reveal employer provided benefits.
Your clients’ earnings are most often detailed in a number of documents, including W-2s, 1099s, pay statements, and tax returns. The more earnings history you are able to review, the more accurate your damage analysis. Ideally, you will collect documents from at least three years before the incident through the present. The documents should cover both the time period prior to the injury or death, and in personal injury cases the time period from the injury to the present. Use these along with the descriptions of the person’s earnings to get a full understanding of the earnings they received, including salary, bonus, stock grants, etc.
To ensure you collect all relevant documents available from your client, here is a list of different types of earnings.
For employer-provided benefits, review the employee handbooks, offer letters, and other benefit contribution descriptions that detail the benefits they received. These may include contributions to health insurance premiums, 401k and pension plans, Social Security and Medicare, etc. Some pay statements detail the individual’s contributions to health insurance and 401k.
Benefits take many forms - here is a list of a dozen types of employer-provided benefits to make sure you ask for all relevant documents from your client.
Each analysis, like each client, is different. If a client was a government worker, you may find that there were no contributions to Social Security on their behalf if the government agency may offers a pension plan in lieu of Social Security.
In some cases you won’t have access to historical documentation of earnings or benefits. For example, waiters who do not declare their cash tips, ‘under the table’ earnings, or young clients who have not entered the labor market.
Save our Earnings and Benefits Checklist to reference each time you collect information and documents from an injured client.