In general, the answer is yes. In a personal injury case, you are entitled to make a claim for all losses you suffered or incurred as a result of the defendant’s wrongdoing. That usually includes any time off from work necessitated by your injuries, regardless of whether or not it was paid time off (PTO). Let's dig a little deeper into this question.
PTO as Economic Damages
In the context of a personal injury claim, the losses resulting from the underlying accident are referred to as personal injury "damages," and these damages are usually split into two main types: economic and non-economic damages.
Non-economic damages are damages that are not capable of exact calculation, like pain and suffering. So, PTO or sick days clearly wouldn't be considered non-economic damages, since they're pretty easy to capture with a precise dollar figure.
In contrast, economic damages (also called "special" damages) are damages that are capable of exact calculation. These types of damages include losses like:
- lost earnings
- diminished or lost earning capacity
- lost employment benefits
- medical bills
- property damage, and
- any other type of quantifiable financial losses.
What do these losses have in common? Every one can typically be calculated to the penny. That's why PTO, when it's used in connection with injuries caused by the at-fault party after an accident, is considered a form of economic damages.
In other words, if you are forced to take paid time off (whether vacation days or sick days) because you are unable to work as a result of your injuries, you have suffered an economic loss. You have used up PTO that you hadn’t planned on using. So, you have lost something, and you are entitled to claim those PTO hours as part of your damages.
Quantifying and Claiming PTO in a Personal Injury Case
Let’s look at an example to see how a claim for PTO works in practice.
Let’s say you work at a job that gives you five sick days per year. You can use them any way you want, and any hours that you don’t use roll over indefinitely, but you can’t cash them in.
Let’s say you are injured in a car accident, and you need to take two weeks off from work. You’ve worked at the company for a while, so you have twenty sick days stored up. You use ten of your sick days, so you get your full paycheck for those two weeks. But you’ve lost those ten sick days. You can only get them back by working another two years at that company, and not taking any further sick days.
So, you have suffered an economic loss, and you are entitled to make a claim against the defendant for that loss. If, for example, you earn $1,000 per week at your job, you are entitled to make a claim for $2,000 in lost PTO. However, as with all damages claims in a personal injury case, you must have satisfactory medical proof that you were unable to work because of the defendant’s negligence (fault for the accident). Satisfactory medical proof usually means a letter from your doctor saying that you were unable to work because of the accident and your resulting injuries.
Similarly, if you take PTO because you need to attend medical appointments (with your doctor, a specialist, a physical therapist) as a result of your accident-related injuries, you'll need to have documentation of those appointments in order to get compensation for the PTO hours you "spent."
Without proper documentation of the medical and practical necessity of the PTO you used, and its connection to your claim, the insurance company will deny your claim for lost PTO hours, and, if your personal injury lawsuit goes to trial, the judge will almost certainly disallow your claim for lost PTO/sick days.