Loss of Earning Capacity - What can you recover if you cannot work up to your capabilities?

Posted Monday, November 27, 2017 by Ed Harper

Washington Pattern instruction 30.08 stands for the proposition that one’s loss of earning capacity is the inability to earn money. This is the permanent diminution or decrease in the ability to work. It may only entail an increasing difficulty with completing the tasks which comprise your employment.

This is separate from “lost earnings”. Loss of earning capacity focuses on the injured person’s diminished ability to earn money because of his or her injuries. Bartlett v. Hantover, 9 Wn.App. 614, 619 – 620, 513 P. 2d 844 (1973), was affirmed on lost earning capacity, and reversed in part on other grounds by the Supreme Court on review, 84 Wn.2d 426, 520 P.2d 1217 (1974).

In Murray v. Mossman, 52 Wn.2d 885 (1958) the injured party was a private secretary who testified that after the accident she experienced a loss of sensation in her arm and hand and that her ability to take shorthand and to type, indicated her work was affected. She also testified that she often needed to retype her work and was not as efficient as she had been prior to the accident. A co-worker confirmed this testimony. The Washington Supreme Court held this testimony by the plaintiff and by her coworker warranted inclusion of an impairment of earning capacity instruction to the jury although the plaintiff testified that she had lost no wages because of the accident. (Id. at 890)

In Bartlett, the plaintiff was working as a manager of a motel, when he was injured severely when shot by intruders. The injured plaintiff was shot in the head and shoulder and somehow survived. The court stated, “In order to instruct on lost earning capacity, the evidence must show with reasonable certainty that the injured party has suffered an impairment in his ability to make a living. (See McCormick, Damages, Sec. 86, 1935) In Bartlett, the court continues by stating the showing that must be made is that the injury suffered by the plaintiff is an injury that, in fact has diminished the ability of the plaintiff to earn money. (Citing Murray v. Mossman, at 889)

“The requirement of the law leaves the fixing of the amount of loss to the discernment of the jury. Thus, a child of 3 and an unemployed man of 71 can suffer a loss of earning capacity.” (Sherman v. Seattle, 57 Wn.2d 233, 350 P.2d 316, 1960; Riddell v. Red Lion, 124 Wn. 146, 213 P. 487, 1923) “Evidence of physical impairment must be presented and from that evidence of injury to the body and/or mind of the plaintiff, the jury must assess the amount that will compensate for his lessened money-making faculties and reduced income potentialities.” (Kelley v. Great Northern Railway, 59 Wn.2d 894 370 P.2d 528, (1962); Johnson v. Howard, 45 Wn.2d 433 230 P.2d 736, (1954); Handley v. Anacortes Ice Company, 5 Wn.2d 384 100, P.2d 505, (1940); Sheppard v. Smith, 198 wash. 395, 80 8P. 2d 601, (1939); Hirst v. Standard Oil Company of California, 145 Wash. 597, 260 1P. 405, (1927); annotation, 18 A.L.R. 3d 88, (1968). “Evidence of the bodily impairment suffered from the two gunshot wounds amply supported lost earning capacity as an element of damage.” (Bartlett at 9 Wn.App. 619 – 620)

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