Many of our clients grow concerned about whether they should work or seek a job while pursuing a personal injury case.
The short answer is: Yes! If your doctor has released you to work, then you can work.
You are only entitled to compensation for wages which you lost as a result of your injuries; not for wages which you lost because you chose not to work. This means that you have an obligation to return to work when you can, or, if you lost your job, to make reasonable efforts to find work that you can do. This is called a duty to “mitigate” your damages. It’s worth noting that, if you are forced to find a job that pays less than your old job, you may very well be able to collect ongoing lost wages, in the amount of your pay reduction.
On occasion, I’m asked whether returning to work will be used to prove a lack of pain or lack of difficulties with daily activities. The answer is that it shouldn’t. One possibility is that you were fortunate enough to NOT be permanently injured and you are able to return to work, in which case it would be unjust to try to collect damages as if you were permanently injured. If, on the other hand, you are still injured, but you are able to work through the pain and/or work around your limitations, you can present that evidence in support of your claim for “pain and suffering,” “loss of normal life,” or “disfigurement.”
Basically, if you are still having pain or other difficulties because of your injuries, returning to work will not hinder your ability to recover damages.
That said, if you cannot perform the duties and tasks your job requires, or if performing your job duties could aggravate your injuries, you should NOT work. In either instance, though, you should share your concerns with your doctor and see if he/she agrees. If your doctor maintains that you can return to work and you disagree, you should seek out a second medical opinion. Because, as explained above, whether you can work will directly impact your claim for lost wages. For more information on what to do after a work injury, click here.