What happens if an injury leaves me unable to work?

Updated: October 6, 2020

After an injury, you may be unable to work for some time. If your injury is serious, you may find yourself unable to work for an extended period. You may even be unable to work for the foreseeable future.

If you find yourself unable to work, what are your rights? Can you claim enough compensation to support yourself and your dependents?

What are my rights if I can't return to work

The total compensation award or settlement you receive should reflect when (or if) you are able to return to work.

Lost earnings

You have a legal right to claim damages to compensate you for your losses. If you are unable to work, your losses will include lost wages.

In addition to lost wages, you can also claim for lost overtime, bonuses, sales commission, and most other financial rewards you would have received if you had been working.

Your solicitor will use payslips, your employment contract, and other evidence to support their calculation.

Lost future earnings

If you are still off work when your injury claim is settled, your claim will also include payment for lost future earnings.

Your lost future earnings will be calculated on a similar basis to the earnings you have already lost.

Based on medical evidence, like your recovery prognosis, your solicitor will work out how much longer you will be unable to work.

Your total claim should include compensation for this likely future period.

Diminished earning capacity

If your injuries mean that you will earn less in the future, this is called 'diminished earning capacity'. Your future earnings could be affected for reasons like:

  • Your injuries mean you can no longer work in the same job or industry.
  • Your injuries mean you cannot work for long periods, or must take longer, more regular breaks.
  • Your recovery has delayed or will delay your career progression.

Diminished earning capacity can be hard to calculate if your work was relatively unskilled, or your injuries have not affected your long-term career prospects.

If your job involved specific skills or required years of training, however, you should be able to claim for these future losses.

If you worked in a professional role, such as a GP or pilot, it is easier to work out what your future career progression would likely have been, and how your injuries and recovery time have affected that progress.

Loss of future opportunities

If you were training for a job or profession that you can no longer pursue, you may be able to claim for this lost opportunity.

You may also be able to claim if you are young and had clear intentions to pursue a career that is no longer open to you.

It can be difficult to prove what your future plans were, and you cannot 'pad out' a claim if you had a vague idea entering a certain profession in the future.

Your solicitor will work with you to ensure your compensation accurately reflects the meaningful future losses you have suffered as a result of your injury.

How is compensation paid if I cannot return to work?

Compensation is generally paid in one of two ways; a lump sum, or in instalments.

Can I be paid a lump sum?

Smaller compensation awards are usually paid as a lump sum. This is simpler for all parties but may mean that you lose access to certain benefits. Compensation awards are included in the calculation of certain means-tested benefits, so you should discuss this with your solicitor if you think you may be affected.

Can my compensation be paid in instalments?

Larger amounts are sometimes paid, or part paid, in instalments.

If you have had a serious injury and need adjustments made to your home to accommodate your injuries, you may receive a lump sum to pay for upfront changes, and then the rest in instalments.

The payment of instalments is not open-ended, however. The payments will end when the agreed settlement is paid in full, so it is your responsibility to ensure ongoing expenses are covered and that you return to work if and when you are able to.

Do I need a personal injury trust?

If you were under 18 at the time of the accident, your compensation may be paid into a trust. Access to a personal injury trust will usually be controlled by trustees until you are old enough to access the trust.

Personal injury trusts are also sometimes used to protect claimants from tax burdens or from losing access to benefits. Your solicitor will be able to recommend a suitable financial specialist to discuss this option with you if required.

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Do I have to return to work?

It depends. Injury claimants have a duty to mitigate their losses. This means you cannot claim for ongoing lost earnings if you are well enough to return to work.

Medical evidence is used to assess if and when you are likely to be able to return to work. Your total compensation will reflect this, and will usually factor in whether you would be able to make a living through another job in the future.

Unfortunately, if your injury worsens after you have agreed on the final settlement, you cannot claim more compensation later. You cannot make a second claim, even if you must take more time off work than you originally planned, or you find that you cannot return to work at all.

Have you been injured at work?

If you have been injured at work in the last 3 years, you may be able to claim financial compensation.

Find out more about making a work accident claim:

  • Do you qualify?
  • How much compensation could you get?
  • How does No Win, No Fee work?

Read more: Work accident claim guide

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