I’m Off Work after a Car Accident but I can’t Afford it! What Should I do?

After a serious accident, you may find yourself unable to go to work and worried about not getting a paycheck. While the hope is that this will be a temporary problem that can be covered by personal savings or the use of sick days, paid time off or vacation time, this is not always the case. Many people struggle with how to meet their living expenses if they need to be off from work while recovering from a car accident, let alone how to pay the bills that start to come in from the doctors.

One of the hardest parts of my job as an injury attorney is hearing that people can’t make ends meet after their accident because they are not back to work yet and have used up all of their paid days off. Of course, you will want to make sure that you are following all of your doctor’s recommendations (such as physical therapy, etc) so that you can get back to work sooner rather than later. The natural temptation is to return to work before you are ready because you feel that you do not have a choice since your family is depending on your paycheck. With your doctor’s permission, you may want to try and see if you can return to work, but many people end up leaving again in frustration if they have returned before their bodies are ready or worse, end up hurting themselves again. If you are not healed enough to return to work and have used up all of your paid time off, there are other options.

What are my options if I have used all of my paid sick leave and personal days?

Talk to your boss or the human resources (HR) department at work to find out if short term disability may be used. It is possible that you might be able to benefit from such a plan until you are well enough to work, but it may be harder to receive if your injuries are “soft tissue”, as in whiplash-type injuries.

Some people have PIP Insurance, which is known as personal injury protection, which will cover their medical bills and lost wages if they are in an accident, regardless of fault. Since this is not at all mandatory, most people don’t have it. It would not hurt to look into it and find out if you have purchased this insurance and if so, what the limits are.  The limits may vary in terms of dollar amounts and depending on whether or not you have other kinds of insurance. Unfortunately, it will not cover pain and suffering, etc. Your bills might also be more than what the coverage provides. While using PIP insurance usually requires you to give a recorded statement to the insurance company and possibly submit to a separate medical exam, it can still be an okay option under some circumstances.

Can I get my lost wages from the At-Fault Driver now? 

Being off of work and not getting paid for it after a car accident will be a very vulnerable time and it may be tempting to settle your case with the insurance company just to get some bills paid. Resist the temptation to enter into a premature settlement. The at-fault-driver is not required to reimburse lost wages as you go, rather - it comes at the end of your case. If you settle now, you will be doing so before the full extent of your damages are known- since time off from work is one piece of what are known as your ‘damages’. In other words, you don’t know yet how much longer it will be before you are able to get back to work.  Once you settle, that’s it- no more money down the road from the at-fault driver or their insurance company. The good news is that your lost wages will be part of your claim against the person who hit you, so ultimately the other driver does have to take responsibility for this and reimburse you. But, since it doesn’t help you in the moment to know that eventually you should be able to recover for this lost time from work, you must explore other options. It may be that you need to borrow money from friends, family, church or other community resources if none of the above plans are an option for you.

Have faith in that there is light at the end of the tunnel. If you were seriously hurt in an accident and believe that it was the other person’s fault, you should be able to recover not only your lost wages but also be compensated for your medical bills, pain and suffering, lost wages, medication and other out-of-pocket costs. Illinois has definite time limits, so do not wait. You should be speaking to an attorney early on to determine what you should be doing and to avoid making mistakes that can hurt you later. Give us a call if you need help. 

Carol O'Connor Cadiz
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Attorney & Owner at O'Connor Cadiz Law: Injury & Accidents, Disability Insurance.