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Are Personal Injury Settlements Taxable?

Personal injury settlements can provide much-needed compensation for individuals who have suffered injuries due to accidents, negligence, or intentional harm. However, amid the relief of receiving a settlement, one crucial question arises: “Are personal injury settlements taxable?” This comprehensive guide aims to explore the tax implications of personal injury settlements, offering clarity to plaintiffs, attorneys, and individuals navigating the aftermath of personal injury claims.

Introduction to Personal Injury Settlements:

Personal injury settlements arise from legal claims filed by individuals who have suffered physical or emotional harm due to the actions or negligence of others. These settlements typically involve compensation for:

While settlements offer a means of resolving disputes outside of court, understanding their tax implications is crucial to avoid unexpected financial consequences.

Tax Exclusion for Physical Injuries:

The IRC provides an exclusion for damages received on account of personal physical injuries or physical sickness. This means that settlements or awards intended to compensate individuals for physical injuries, including medical expenses and pain and suffering, are generally not considered taxable income. This tax exclusion applies regardless of whether the compensation is received through a settlement, judgment, or out-of-court agreement.

Non-Taxable Components of Personal Injury Settlements:

In addition to compensation for physical injuries, several components of personal injury settlements are typically non-taxable. These may include:

  • Medical expenses: Reimbursement for medical treatment, surgery, rehabilitation, and other healthcare costs incurred as a result of the injury.
  • Pain and suffering: Damages awarded to compensate for physical or emotional distress resulting from the injury.
  • Loss of consortium: Compensation for the loss of companionship or support suffered by a spouse or family member due to the injury.

Are Personal Injury Settlements Taxable on the Federal Level?

In general, personal injury settlements are not taxable on the federal level if they are intended to compensate for physical injuries or physical sickness. According to the Internal Revenue Code (IRC), specifically under Section 104(a)(2), damages received on account of personal physical injuries or physical sickness are generally excluded from taxable income. This exclusion applies to compensatory damages, which are intended to make the injured party whole again, covering medical expenses, lost wages, and pain and suffering directly related to physical injuries or sickness.

Here are the key points of this exclusion:

  1. Physical Injuries or Sickness: The exclusion applies only to damages received due to physical injuries or physical sickness. If the damages are for emotional distress not arising from a physical injury or sickness, they are generally not excludable from income, except to the extent they reimburse the taxpayer for medical expenses attributable to emotional distress.
  2. Punitive Damages: Damages that are punitive in nature, even if related to physical injuries or physical sickness, are not excluded from taxable income. Punitive damages are meant to penalize the person at fault rather than to compensate the injured party.
  3. Emotional Distress: As mentioned, damages received for emotional distress are not excluded unless they are attributable to a physical injury or sickness. However, if the emotional distress results in physical symptoms that necessitate medical care, the costs of that care might be excludable.
  4. Lost Wages: While lost wages are generally included in taxable income, if they are part of a settlement or judgment for a physical injury or physical sickness, they can be excluded from income to the extent that the entire award is excludable.
  5. Medical Expenses Deduction: If a taxpayer receives a settlement or judgment for personal physical injuries or physical sickness and had previously deducted medical expenses related to those injuries, they might have to include in income the portion of the settlement that corresponds to the amount previously deducted.
Compensatory Damages Non-Taxable Taxable
Physical Injuries or Sickness X
Punitive Damages X
Emotional Distress caused by physical injury or sickness X
Lost Wages caused by physical injury or sickness X
Medical Expenses Deduction related to personal physical injuries or sickness  X

Here is the relevant portion from IRC Section 104(a)(2):

“Except in the case of amounts attributable to (and not in excess of) deductions allowed under section 213 (relating to medical, etc., expenses) for any prior taxable year, gross income does not include

(2) the amount of any damages (other than punitive damages) received (whether by suit or agreement and whether as lump sums or as periodic payments) on account of personal physical injuries or physical sickness.” 

Read more here: IRC Section 104(a)(2):

This provision ensures that individuals who receive compensation for physical harm or illness are not further burdened by taxes on those amounts. However, careful consideration is necessary when determining the taxability of such awards, especially when mixed with non-physical injury components or punitive damages.

Are Personal Injury Settlements Taxable on the State Level?

The tax treatment of personal injury settlements on the state level can vary depending on the state’s tax laws and regulations. While many states follow federal guidelines and exclude compensation for physical injuries from taxable income, some states may have different rules regarding the taxation of settlements. It’s essential for individuals to consult with tax professionals or review state-specific tax laws to understand the tax implications of personal injury settlements in their jurisdiction.

When are Personal Injury Settlements Taxable?

Personal injury settlements may be subject to taxation if they include elements that do not qualify for the tax exclusion for physical injuries. For example, punitive damages awarded to punish the defendant for egregious conduct are generally considered taxable income. Additionally, interest earned on settlement amounts and compensation for non-physical injuries, such as emotional distress or defamation, may be subject to taxation. It’s important for recipients of personal injury settlements to carefully review the terms of the settlement and consult with tax professionals to determine the taxability of the settlement proceeds.

Are Punitive Damages Taxable?

Unlike compensatory damages intended to compensate victims for losses incurred, punitive damages serve to punish defendants for egregious conduct and deter similar behavior in the future. From a tax perspective, punitive damages are generally considered taxable income. This applies whether the punitive damages are awarded through a court judgment or as part of a settlement agreement.

Are Wrongful Death Damages Taxable?

The taxation of wrongful death damages can vary. Typically, compensation received for wrongful death isn’t taxable for federal income tax purposes, such as:

  • Medical expenses
  • Funeral costs
  • Loss of income

However, exceptions may apply. Interest accrued on the settlement and punitive damages are generally taxable. State laws regarding taxation may also differ. While some states exempt wrongful death damages from state income tax, others may not. Consultation with a tax professional or attorney knowledgeable in tax law is recommended to understand the tax implications of wrongful death damages fully.

Tax Treatment of Interest:

Interest earned on personal injury settlements may also be subject to taxation. While the principal amount of a settlement intended to compensate for physical injuries is typically non-taxable, any interest accrued on that amount may be taxable as ordinary income. It’s essential for recipients of personal injury settlements to accurately report interest income to the IRS to avoid potential tax penalties.

Reporting Personal Injury Settlements to the IRS:

Individuals who receive personal injury settlements must comply with IRS reporting requirements to ensure proper tax treatment. Generally, settlements exceeding $600 in a calendar year must be reported to the IRS using Form 1099-MISC or other appropriate tax forms. Failure to report taxable settlements accurately can result in penalties and interest charges imposed by the IRS.

Structuring Settlements to Minimize Tax Liability:

Plaintiffs and their attorneys may explore various strategies to structure personal injury settlements in a tax-efficient manner. This may include:

  • Allocating damages to non-taxable categories: Designating a portion of the settlement to compensate for physical injuries or medical expenses to qualify for the tax exclusion.
  • Negotiating for tax-free benefits: Seeking reimbursement for future medical expenses or establishing structured settlements to provide periodic payments over time rather than a lump sum.
  • Consulting with tax professionals: Seeking guidance from qualified tax professionals, such as tax attorneys or CPAs, to devise strategies that minimize tax liability while ensuring compliance with IRS regulations.

Get Help Now with Your Personal Injury Settlement Taxes

Our team of personal injury settlement tax attorneys is dedicated to helping you.  At Phoenix Accident and Injury Law Firm near you, we have more than 15 years of experience helping clients obtain compensation for their and their loved one’s personal injuries settlement taxes in the Phoenix area. When you’re ready to talk, please contact our office to arrange a free initial consultation by phone or at our Chandler office, conveniently located near you.

If you or a loved one has been the victim of personal injury, contact Phoenix Accident and Injury Law Firm in nearby Chandler, AZ to speak with an experienced personal injury attorney. We provide personal injury legal services to clients in your area including Chandler, Gilbert, Mesa, Scottsdale, Tempe, and Peoria.

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Brenden Lewis
a month ago

So I suffered a tragic motorcycle accident leaving me injured and quite unhappy…… also the bike was totaled. This all star law team secured a large settlement for all my suffering. This process was very well advised by an aggressive and determined lawyer. All I can say is now I’m left a very happy man. Thank you karissa for working quick to bring my tragic story to a much warmer end. Just call them! You won’t regret it!

Shayianna Guyton
a month ago

They literally conversed with me every step of the way throughout my journey. Thank you guys

I was very pleased with my experience. They kept me informed the whole way through the process and checked on me through my treatment. Definitely would recommend

My dad was in a car accident and during those difficult moments, Phoenix Accident and Injury Law firm has been there for us. They care for their clients, will walk you through everything you need to know step by step, they follow up, very easy to reach and fast to respond. And one thing is for sure! they will fight for you! we felt safe with them! Me and the entire family thank them all so much for all their help! These people that works here are amazing!

Jenifer henke
a year ago

I was in an accident that resulted in getting whiplash and a concussion. I contacted Phoenix Accident and Injury Law Firm that day. Everyone was helpful (Rhea, Karissa, and Jeff) from the very beginning to the very end. They sent me to a physical therapy location that was pretty far away but the doctor and physical therapist were very kind so I did make the trek. They handled all aspects of my case in a timely manner and answered all my questions. They got the max amount possible, and from that, paid the medical bills and took their fair cut. I would not hesitate to recommend them to family or friends.

I would give ten stars if I could. This law firm is about as professional and friendly as it gets!! They stayed in constant contact with me and answered every question I had. I got a settlement that was higher than I expected and will definitely use this law firm again. I highly recommend hiring them to handle your legal issues!!

Fernando Lopez
a year ago

My experience with this team was superb, as they were ongoing with the case and making sure that the client gets what they deserve. I recommend anyone looking for a accident law group that this is the team you want to be representing you!!

Kimberly Legaspi
2 years ago

What can I say about the Thompson Law Firm? They are AMAZING!! It’s never fun when you need an accident lawyer because you are pretty much in a bad place. Shane and the staff have been wonderful, kept me informed at every step of this process. I would recommend Thompson Law Firm to anyone, in fact, I have referred several friends already!! Thank you Thompson Law Firm for everything you did for me!!!

Amanda Olney
2 years ago

These guys were absolutely amazing. They were very clear with me about what I needed to do on my end and I saw fast results. I just recommended them to a friend a week ago and he also dealt with my mother's case. I wouldn't see anyone else.

2 years ago

Karissa and Shane were amazing! They were there for any questions I had and checked up on me regularly. Highly recommend these guys!!

Karissa Murphy
2 years ago

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