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Tennessee Court Remands For Proper Calculation of Loss of Earnings Damages

haircutIf you are injured in a car, truck, or pedestrian accident, there are multiple categories of damages that you may seek to recover in a personal injury lawsuit. First, you may claim expenses that you have incurred as a result of your accident, such as medical bills or repair costs for your car or other property. Second, you may seek pain and suffering damages for the pain you experienced during and after your accident, as well as any suffering that may continue to linger long after the accident is over. Third, you may also have lost earnings and lost future earnings. These damages arise when you are unable to work or forced to reduce your workload as a result of your accident, or when your accident leaves you permanently injured in a way that affects your ability to work and make money down the road.  A recent case before the Tennessee Court of Appeals looks at how lost future earnings are calculated in Tennessee.

In this car accident case, J.H. was injured after a van owned by the South Central Tennessee Development District (SCTDD) ran a red light and collided with the driver’s side of J.H.’s car. After the accident, J.H. was immediately taken to the hospital for medical treatment and was diagnosed with back and leg injuries. Over the next six months, she continued to have pain as a result of her back injury and was forced to seek treatment from multiple medical providers. J.H. eventually sued SCTDD, and SCTDD admitted that it was liable for the accident and J.H.’s injuries. A trial was held before the judge to address the damages that J.H. was entitled to receive. Ultimately, the court awarded J.H. damages for past medical expenses, pain and suffering, loss of ability to enjoy life, lost wages, and lost future earnings. SCTDD appealed almost all of these damages calculations but focused primarily on the court’s calculation of lost future earnings.

In Tennessee, lost of future earnings is actually a calculation of a plaintiff’s reduced earning potential in the future. The question to be considered is not the actual earnings amount that a plaintiff will receive in the future but the amount that the plaintiff could be capable of making down the road. To determine the total loss, courts are instructed to compare the amount that the plaintiff would have been capable of making before the injury and the amount the plaintiff is capable of making after the injury. This is then multiplied by the number of years in the workforce that the plaintiff has remaining. Importantly, under Tennessee precedent, the plaintiff has the burden of showing that he or she suffers from an impairment that affects the ability to work and showing the extent to which the impairment limits the ability to work.

Here, the lower court did not look at J.H.’s capability before and after the accident, but instead it took the number of hours that she did not work in her position as a hairdresser due to the accident (J.H. went from 40 hours a week to 32 hours a week) and multiplied this by her hourly wage to determine a yearly lost income figure. It then multiplied that number by her remaining years in the workforce. The Court of Appeals noted that this was a calculation of J.H.’s lost future earnings, rather than her lost future earning capacity. While it acknowledged that J.H. had indeed suffered injuries that affected her ability to work because she could no longer stand and cut hair for extended periods of time, it held that the court did not do a proper comparison of J.H.’s capabilities before and after the accident. Accordingly, it remanded to the lower court so that the court could make the appropriate findings about J.H.’s current and future capabilities and then award damages on this basis as appropriate.

For any plaintiff seeking a wide variety of damages in a personal injury case, it is important to remember that the plaintiff bears the burden of establishing those damages. Some categories, such as past medical expenses, can be easy to establish, but others, such as future medical charges or future lost earnings capacity, may require the testimony of an expert in order to establish. Experts can also help to ensure that a court properly calculates the damages it is considering and minimizes the chance of an appeal. If you are concerned about your claim for damages at trial or how to best establish lost earnings potential, experienced Tennessee auto accident attorney Eric Beasley is the skilled and effective advocate whom you need in the courtroom. For more information or to discuss the circumstances of your case, contact the Law Office of Eric Beasley today at 615-859-2223.

Related Blog Posts:

Determining Damages In Tennessee When The Jury’s Verdict Exceeds The Amount Requested, Tennessee Personal Injury Blog, November 2, 2016.

The Risks and Rewards of Jury Trials for Personal Injury Claims, Tennessee Personal Injury Blog, August 4, 2016

Tennessee Supreme Court Reverses Course on Damages Caps, Tennessee Personal Injury Blog, November 5, 2015