The post yesterday on witness statements for loss of earnings proved to be the most popular post on this blog thus far. The fact is that claims for loss of earnings can often be taken for granted, not thought out and not established by the evidence.
This is an example client questionnaire on the single issue of loss of income. An issue that needs to be addressed fully and completely. It is difficult to underestimate the impact damaging than destroying or impairing a person’s ability to earn a person’s ability to earn their own living. This aspect of the claim is often overlooked in “catastrophic injury” claims because issues such as care and accommodation often dominate the claim. In other claims, too, there is a danger of this issue being under-investigated.
THE NEED TO CONSIDER THE CLAIM FOR LOSS OF EARNINGS THOROUGHLY
Providing a client questionnaire cannot be an excuse for the lawyer failing to investigate the matter thoroughly and to advise the client. A failure to advise properly can sometimes lead to the claim being over-pleaded, and false hopes raised, rather than under-estimated. Some claims are brought on the basis of gross rather than net earnings. Some claimants provide their own estimates of their earnings which are honest estimates, but wholly inaccurate. Simple pieces of documentary evidence, such as tax returns or wage slips are not obtained or scrutinised.
Further it is important that fringe benefits and similar income is not disregarded. See the previous post on this subject.
Whilst it is important that the claim is set out thoroughly, it is important that this is done realistically. Whilst the burden of proving a failure to mitigate loss lies with the defendant the burden of proving future loss lies with the claimant. If a claimant has residual earning capacity then it may be difficult to persuade a judge that a claimant will never work again. The claimant should be encouraged to look for work and, equally importantly from the point of view of any litigation, record and document that search for work. (In case anyone thinks this is too pro-defendant an attitude, I should also add that I would seriously consider making it a capital offence for insurers to fail to participate in the Rehabilitation Protocol, particularly in relation to employment). Over the past few months the law reports have been full of cases where the claimant has pursued a case that they are unable to work again/have suffered a substantial loss of income and the courts have not accepted this on the evidence. For that reason the evidence needs collecting, collating and scrutinising with considerable care.
The questionnaire is the first step. Assessing the evidence once it is obtained is equally crucial. It is designed to assist the lawyer, not replace careful questioning and thorough investigation.
“Your loss of earnings
This questionnaire is designed to help us to get the information we need to conduct your case properly and assess what affect your injury has had on your earnings.
If you have difficulty in answering any of these questions it is helpful to fill in as much as you can and then arrange to see us to discuss the whole form. If there are any other matters relating to your loss of earnings, or problems you have had with your work or may have in the future please make sure that you raise these with us.
PAST LOSS OF EARNINGS
1. Where did you work at the time of the accident?
2. How much did you earn?
3. Did your job provide you with any fringe benefits, if so please detail these? (e.g. company car, free insurance)
4. What earnings did you lose as a result of the accident? (Including details of any incremental increases and promotions that you would have received)
5. Have you worked since the accident?
6. If the answer to the above question is yes, please provide details of where you worked, what your job involved and your earnings.
FUTURE LOSS OF EARNINGS
7. Have your injuries affected your ability to carry out the work you previously did, if so how has your work been affected?
8. Have your injuries affected your ability to carry out other types of work, if so how?
9. Have your injuries affected any chance of promotion?
10. How have the injuries affected your enjoyment of your work?
11. Are you likely to lose your job in the future? (If so please provide reasons as to why this may occur). This does not have to be an immediate risk of job loss we just need to know whether your job is absolutely safe.
12. Have you attempted to find alternative employment since the accident, if so please provide details of the positions you have applied for?
13. Since the accident have you undergone any re-training or do you hope to re-train?
14. At what age did you plan to retire prior to the accident?
15. Have your injuries affected that retirement age, if so when do you now plan to retire?
16. Will you receive any retirement benefits? Have these been affected by your injuries?
17. Please set out your educational history and any qualifications you have
(including any vocational qualifications).
18. It is important that you show us any documents in relation to your earnings and loss of income. If you have any documents such as wage slips, P60s, tax returns or other proof of earnings please show these to us.”If you do not have any documents it will help us if you tell us where they can be found.”