Posted on Friday, August 24th, 2018 at 10:42 am
The following post is part of our Law Student Blog Writing Project, and is authored by Jennifer Tressler, who is pursuing her Juris Doctorate at The Ohio State University Moritz College of Law.
You have been injured. You have no idea how you are going to pay for your medical bills. You are not able to work right now because of your injuries, so your family has lost your income and is struggling financially. It is such an overwhelming time that you file a lawsuit, and—great news—you win a settlement large enough to cover all of your medical bills and allow you to provide for your family until you are able to get back to work.
However, now you have new worries. You have won this large amount of money—but will the money from your injury settlement be taxed and taken away from you? Does this money constitute income in the eyes of the IRS? The answers to these questions are dependent upon the facts and circumstances of your specific case.
Generally, though, the IRS will not interfere with the allocation of funds provided that they are consistent with the substance of the claims in your settlement. Different types of claims are treated differently by the IRS, however, and how you should deal with the settlement money from these different types of claims will be briefly outlined here. If your settlement included multiple claims, the amounts pertaining to each claim will be treated accordingly with the rules for that individual amount. This means that if you receive $50,000 for personal physical injury and $50,000 for emotional distress, $50,000 will be regarded under the rules for personal physical injury or physical sickness and $50,000 will be regarded under the rules for emotional distress or mental anguish.
Personal Injury and Emotional Distress Lawsuits
If your settlement is for personal physical injuries or physical sickness and you did not take an itemized deduction for medical expenses related to the injury or sickness in the past, the full amount is non-taxable. You should not include this money in your income reporting. You must, however, include any portion of the settlement that is for medical expenses that you deducted in the past that resulted in a tax benefit. If part of the proceeds is for medical expenses you paid over more than one year, it must be allocated on a “pro rata” basis, or in proportion to the amounts paid each year. Talking to an experienced lawyer at Lawrence & Associates can help you figure out how to calculate the amount to report and fill out the correct forms.
If your settlement is for emotional distress or mental anguish originating from a personal physical injury or physical sickness, it is treated in the same way as a settlement for personal physical injury or physical sickness, which is listed above. If the emotional distress or mental anguish settlement you receive does not originate from personal physical injury or physical sickness from the accident, it must be included in your income reporting. This amount reported is reduced by the amount paid for medical expenses attributable to emotional distress or mental anguish not previously reported and by previously deducted medical expenses for emotional distress or mental anguish that did not provide any tax benefit. A lawyer can help you attach a statement showing these deductions to your return and fill out the necessary forms to document this.
Employment or Property Damage Lawsuits
If you receive your settlement in an employment-related lawsuit, the portion of your proceeds that are for lost wages is taxable and subject to the social security wage base, as well as the social security and Medicare tax rates in effect for the year the settlement is paid. They are subject to employment tax withholding, and a lawyer can help you report these in the appropriate places on your returns. If you run your own business and your settlement is for lost profits for your own trade or business, those proceeds are considered net earnings subject to self-employment tax and must be reported. A lawyer can help you navigate this more complex reporting and help you select the correct IRS forms.
If your settlement is for loss in value of property and is less than the adjusted basis of your property, it is not taxable and generally does not need to be reported on your tax return, although you must still reduce your basis in the property by the amount on the settlement. If your property settlement exceeds your basis in the property, the excess is considered income. A lawyer can help you determine if this applies to you and, if so, how much excess you must report. In addition, any interest on any settlement is generally taxable and needs to be reported.
The Different Treatment for Compensatory and Punitive Damages
Most of the money awarded to you in your settlement is considered compensatory damages, meaning that the money is intended to pay you back for your injuries. Compensatory damages compensate the injured party for their direct suffering (i.e. medical bills, lost wages, resulting health problems, etc.), and you had to prove that you suffered some type of monetary loss, how much the loss was, and that the other party was the cause of this loss. In contrast, punitive damages are intended to punish the wrongdoer, as well as serve as a warning or lesson to the rest of society. They exceed simple compensation. Punitive damages are only available in cases where the defendant is considered reckless or negligent. For example, in a car accident, punitive damages could be available if the defendant was driving drunk at the time of the crash. Punitive damages are always taxable and must be reported as income, even if they were received in a personal physical injury claim. Some settlements containing punitive damages require the recipient to make estimated tax payments on said settlement. A lawyer can help you determine if this applies to you, and if so, how much your estimated tax payments should be.
If you have questions about how your settlement will be taxed, please call Lawrence & Associates today for a free consultation at (859) 371.5997. We’re Working Hard for the Working Class, and we want to help you!