Unfortunately, most construction accident cases involve catastrophic injuries. When a worker suffers a significant injury and medical experts testify that an employee cannot resume his career, an economist should be hired to write a report detailing economic losses. The conclusions in the report will be included in any settlement demand made on behalf of the injured worker. Additionally, the expert economist will testify about the opinions in his report if the case goes to trial.
There are two types of damages in a construction site accident claim: (a) non-economic damages and (b) economic damages. Non-economic damages are damages that a plaintiff seeks for pain, suffering and loss of enjoyment of life. These damages also include a spouse’s per quod claim. Noneconomic damages are “unliquidated” and not mathematically calculable. In New Jersey, plaintiffs are not able to suggest a specific dollar amount to a jury for damages related to pain, suffering and loss of enjoyment of life. Instead, juries are instructed to use their common sense and life experience to come to a dollar amount that is fair compensation for these losses based on the evidence that they hear during trial.
Economic losses are capable of mathematical calculation and these losses are “boardable” at the time of trial. This means that if a plaintiff sustained losses related to the inability to earn an income or out of pocket medical expenses, the jury can be told the precise amount of these losses. Then, they are asked to add to the “boardable” damages the damages related to pain, suffering and loss of enjoyment of life. Arguably these later damages are much more significant because work is but a portion of a person’s existence.
When a worker’s injuries force retirement, he seeks compensation for lost wages and benefits from the date of disability until the end of his worklife expectancy. Worklife expectancy is usually obtained through a statistical analysis of the work life experience of the civilian population by gender, age and level of education.
To determine the amount lost past and future salary compensation that a worker is entitled to as a result of his disability, an economic expert will examine the injured worker’s employment earnings history. In construction accident cases, this inquiry starts with an examination of an injured worker’s annual history of hours of employment. This information is usually secured through the worker’s Union Pension Fund Statement.
In addition to lost income related to salary, when an injured construction worker is forced to retire, an economic expert must calculate compensation damages consisting of lost annuity, vacation, welfare and pension fund contributions. Moreover, the value of lost health insurance benefits must be calculated and the loss of the value of a funded pension benefit at retirement must be calculated. (This last figure is often off-set by the consequential absence of an obligation to make continuing contributions).
Since union members can occasionally go through periods of unemployment in the construction industry, an unemployment adjustment factor has to be factored into a lost-wage analysis. This takes into consideration the overall unemployment rate in a particular trade, but also factors in a workers past record of consistent employment. For example, union members with good reputations and seniority can often work as frequently as they want.
After past and future lost wages are estimated, a reduction in gross earnings is made to account for state and federal income taxes. Further, expenses relative to earnings have to be subtracted. These expenses typically consist of transportation costs, work clothing costs and union dues. Finally, because plaintiffs seek a lump sum payment for future lost wages, an economic expert must discount his estimate of future economic loss to a present value at the time of the resolution of the case.
To effectively represent a worker suffering catastrophic injuries, lawyers must know how to gather evidence so that a full-measure of economic loss can be placed in evidence. We work with nationally known economists to help our clients obtain the comprehensive compensation that they deserve.