As a trusted personal injury law firm in California, The Barnes Firm understands that claimants have lots of questions regarding accident settlements. Among these concerns is the question, “Is my accident settlement taxable?” While the short answer is that the proceeds typically are not taxable, there are certainly cases where they are. Your negotiation should include tax considerations so you can keep as much of your settlement as possible.
Are Settlements Taxable?
If you received a settlement for personal injury or sickness and did not take an itemized deduction for medical expenses related to the injury or illness, the full amount of your accident settlement is non-taxable. This means you should not include your accident settlement when declaring income.
Some elements of a settlement are taxable, including lost wages, pain and suffering, punitive damages, and emotional distress damages. For example, if you receive proceeds for lost wages in an auto accident settlement, that compensation is taxable since wages are taxable in and of themselves. Compensation for medical expenses only becomes taxable if those expenses were used for a tax deduction on your prior years’ tax returns. Emotional distress damages are taxable, but physical sickness damages are not.
How Much Will I Be Taxed On My Settlement?
According to the tax code, the only tax-free damages you can claim are the ones that compensate you for physical injury or physical sickness. If you are awarded proceeds for emotional distress or punitive damages and not physical injury or sickness, that money is taxable.
Taxes are based on the “origin of the claim.” If you get laid off of work and are suing for lost wages, the proceeds would be taxed as such. But if you are suing for a physical injury that was a direct result of another party’s negligence, the proceeds would not necessarily be considered income, and therefore be taxed differently. Attorney fees also factor in your income. If you sue for intentional infliction of emotional distress, receive an award of $100,000, and pay your lawyer $40,000, your “total income” is still $100,000.
Can I Avoid Paying Tax on My Settlement?
There is a good chance that your dispute and settlement will involve multiple legal issues. This means that you may have to pay taxes on some things, but not on others. Medical expenses are tax-free, even payments to a psychiatrist or counselor. But sometimes, the distinction between physical and emotional gets fuzzy; if you develop an ulcer because of your employer, is that a symptom of emotional stress, or is it considered physical? This is what the litigation process will help determine. If you sue for punitive damages, for either a physical or emotional-related claim, you can expect those proceeds to be taxable, since they are not intended to compensate you for your loss.
The Barnes Firm Is Here to Help
If you have a personal injury claim and need legal representation, the legal experts at The Barnes Firm want to hear from you. Contact us today to learn more about how we can help you keep more of your accident settlement.