Receiving a personal injury settlement or award is great news for anyone in Washington State who has suffered a personal injury or wrongful death. This money is used to pay for expenses and help get your life back on track. It is also viewed as income, and as such, it is likely taxable.
At Law Offices of Paul L. Schneiderman, our personal injury lawyer in Seattle can help you understand your tax obligations when we successfully represent your personal injury or wrongful death claim. Contact us at 206-464-1952 to schedule a Free Consultation about your personal injury claim and possible tax implications.
Taxes and Personal Injury Claims in Washington State?
Settlements and judgments have federal and state tax implications. The general rule specific to personal injury claims is that the proceeds for compensatory damages are not taxable under federal or state law for physical pain and suffering (this should not be construed as formal tax advice, I advise that you consult with the appropriate tax professional or tax attorney). This rule applies whether the claim was settled prior to or after filing a lawsuit, or whether the proceeds were awarded in a verdict following a trial. Please also note: the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017 adds some changes to the taxation of torts claims.
The reason for the general rule is that compensation for compensatory damages is meant to essentially reimburse an individual for the losses suffered as a result of an injury. As such, any compensated gain is meant to offset the losses, so there is no net gain from the proceeds.
Non-Taxable Personal Injury Settlements or Judgments in Washington State
Personal injury claims include several types of cases that could fall into the general rule of non-taxable settlement proceeds. Common types of non-taxable personal injury settlements include:
- Motor vehicle accidents
- Boating accidents
- Animal bites and attacks
- Slip and falls and other premises liability cases
- Dangerous or defective products
- Workplace accidents
- Medical malpractice
- Dangerous or defective medications
- Wrongful death
Unfortunately, most personal injury claims include compensation for many types of damages, so taxability is not always a straightforward question.
Exceptions to the Rule on Taxing Personal Injury Claims
There are several exceptions to the general rule that can present many complexities in determining the taxable portions of the settlement proceeds. Failure to properly include taxable portions of a personal injury settlement could result in severe tax penalties.
Punitive Damages and Interest Exceptions
In some cases, punitive damages are awarded to provide additional punishment for reckless or intentional behavior of the liable party and prevent similar conduct in the future. Compensation for punitive damages is awarded on top of compensatory damages, and as such, these proceeds are typically taxable.
Additionally, the interest earned on a verdict or settlement amount from a personal injury claim is generally taxable. Many states have court rules that provide interest on a personal injury settlement or verdict for the time the case was pending before the court.
For example, if a verdict awards compensation to an injured party one year after the lawsuit was filed, the injured party could receive interest on the verdict amount starting from filing date and running until the payment is made.
Other Common Exceptions to the General Rule
In some cases, an injured person might sustain emotional distress damages from an accident or incident. Emotional distress commonly results from an injury, such as anxiety or depression following a significant injury. However, it can also be unrelated to any injury, such as seeing a close loved one suffer harm.
If the emotional distress damages are connected to a physical injury or illness, any compensation is generally not taxable. If the damages are not connected to a physical injury or illness, the compensation is typically taxable.
Personal injury settlements also often include compensation for lost wages while an individual recovers from an injury. Unfortunately, this portion of a settlement is generally taxable as income, according to the Internal Revenue Service.
Contact a Personal Injury Lawyer in Seattle Today
It is important to understand the breakdown of a personal injury settlement to ensure the proceeds are properly reported for tax purposes. At Law Offices of Paul L. Schneiderman, our personal injury team in Washington State will help you understand what is and is not taxable. Contact us either by filling out the online form or calling us at 206-464-1952 today. We will schedule a Free Consultation to discuss your specific personal injury claim.