Court Rejects Lost Wages Claim Based on Lack of Evidence Indicating Plaintiff’s Inability to Perform Work Functions

Earlier this month, a state appellate court issued a written opinion in a car accident case that illustrates an important point that routinely comes up in New Mexico personal injury cases. The case involved the issue of a jury’s verdict in favor of a plaintiff who claimed she suffered lost wages as a result of an accident. The court, however, rejected the plaintiff’s claim, finding that the evidence presented was speculative and failed to establish that the loss in wages was reasonably certain.

Car AccidentThe Facts of the Case

The plaintiff was involved in a car accident with the defendant. As a result of the accident, the plaintiff suffered serious injuries and filed a personal injury claim against the defendant. The defendant admitted that the accident was his fault, but he claimed that the accident was not the cause of the plaintiff’s injuries. Thus, the case proceeded to trial on the issue of damages only.

At trial, the plaintiff made two claims. First, she argued that she was entitled to future medical expenses. In support of this claim, she had an expert witness testify that she would need palliative care, which was estimated to cost between $525,000 and $850,000. The expert also opined that, while not absolutely necessary, it was recommended that the plaintiff get cervical surgery to improve her quality of life. If successful, the plaintiff would not need future surgeries; however, if it were unsuccessful, the plaintiff would likely then need a subsequent lumbar surgery. The cervical surgery was estimated to cost between $90,000 and $120,000, and the lumbar surgery between $60,000 and $90,000.

The plaintiff also claimed she was entitled to lost wages as a result of her injuries. However, the only testimony the plaintiff presented was her own. She explained that she was afraid her injuries would cause her to be fired from her current job. There was no expert testimony regarding the plaintiff’s ability to perform the functions of her job.

The jury returned a lump-sum verdict of $353,000, not specifying how much was designated for each claim. The defendant appealed the verdict, arguing that the entire award was speculative.

The court ended up affirming the award for future medical expenses but reversing the award for lost wages. The court concluded that the total amount was within the expert’s estimation of palliative care alone. Thus, whatever the jury determined regarding the necessity of the surgeries was unimportant because the award would be entirely consumed by the palliative care expenses.

The court agreed, however, with the defendant that the claim for lost wages was speculative. The court explained that in order to obtain compensation for lost wages, a plaintiff must establish that the loss in wages was “reasonably certain.” Here, the only evidence presented to the court was the plaintiff’s subjective fear that she would lose her job. This, the court determined, was not sufficient to establish that she was reasonably certain to incur a loss in wages. Thus, the court ordered a new trial on the issue of lost wages only, and then the court will reduce the plaintiff’s total award amount by the lost wages figure.

Have You Been Injured in a New Mexico Car Accident?

If you or a loved one has recently been injured in a New Mexico car accident, you may be entitled to monetary compensation. The dedicated New Mexico personal injury attorneys at the Fine Law Firm have extensive experience representing victims and their families in all types of car accident claims, including those involving the need for serious future medical treatment. Call 505-889-FINE to schedule your free consultation today.

More Blog Posts:

State Supreme Court Finds No Basis for Summary Judgment after Expert Opinion Testimony, New Mexico Personal Injury Lawyer Blog, December 31, 2017.

Court Discusses Government Liability in Recent Personal Injury Case, New Mexico Personal Injury Lawyer Blog, January 4, 2018.