The most common question we get is “What is my case worth?”  That depends on a number of things including what is your average weekly wage (“AWW”).
The AWW is typically based on the money you earned in the 52 weeks prior to your accident.  It can vary based on overtime hours, having a 2nd job, bonuses, weeks taken off work and a bunch of other things.  The higher your AWW, the more your case is potentially worth.  Someone that makes $1,500 a week is going to get a better settlement than someone earning $500 a week who had the exact same treatment, injury and recovery.
But recently I heard something that is frightening and appears to be an attempt to lower the value of cases.  The average weekly wage is based on your gross pay, not your net pay.  So if you make $1,000 a week before taxes and $700 a week after taxes are taken out, if you get hurt on the job then your AWW is $1,000.  A former insurance adjuster called me to tell me that one of the big insurance outfits is telling their employees to calculate AWW based on the net (after taxes) instead of the gross.
Now I haven’t seen anyone try to do that on a case yet and if they did it would be incredibly harmful to workers if they got away with it.  If your net was $500 a week, then if you got injured you’d only receive $333.33 a week while you can’t work.  That would be approximately a $150 a week loss.  The results would be even worse when it came time to settle your case.
Not everyone receives paystubs anymore, but if you do get hurt, you need to get a copy of your pay history to your attorney.  Often we are forced to rely on a written history provided by the insurance adjuster.  If they “mistakenly” write down the wrong numbers then you will lose out.
Keep track of your paystubs or ask for a copy of them if an accident happens.  It seems like something you shouldn’t have to worry about, but if your hours vary week to week or if you received a raise at some point then it really matters.  And remember, your compensation is based on the total amount received, not what you walked away with.  The only exception to that is that you don’t get paid overtime at the overtime rate.  When it’s part of your AWW – which is a topic for another post – it’s done at the straight time rate.


By Michael Helfand