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Can You Get Unemployment and Disability Benefits After a Car Accident in California?

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When you’re hurt in a car accident, your life can turn upside down.

Debilitating injuries or long-term medical issues made worse by your accident may force you to miss weeks of work. Meanwhile, unexpected medical bills start to pile up, and the wages you are losing may threaten you with financial ruin.

Thankfully, you have options. The United States government and the state of California has several insurance and leave programs in place for those who are out of work due to a car accident. However, determining which program you are eligible for can be a challenging task.

To help, we’ve provided a brief guide to the benefits you may be eligible to receive after your car accident injury: various types of disability insurance, employment leave, or unemployment insurance. To get specific questions answered and get help applying for the right benefits, speak with a PARRIS attorney today.

Types of Disability Insurance

There are several types of federally-funded disability insurance programs that you may be eligible for after a car accident. In addition, the state of California also provides you with a potential avenue for benefits.

Social Security Disability Insurance

Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) is a federal program funded by the Social Security Administration (SSA) that pays benefits to people out of work due to a disability. Unlike other forms of insurance, the medical condition that prevents you from working does not need to be related to work. Your car accident injuries may make you eligible.

Your eligibility for SSDI is determined by two factors: your work history, and the nature of your disability.

Firstly, to be covered under SSDI, you must have worked in a job covered by Social Security, meaning that you paid into the program with each paycheck. Depending on your age, you must have worked a certain number of years to be eligible for benefits. Here is a simplified overview, taken from the Social Security Administration’s website:

  • Disabled before or when you turn 24: You’ll need to have worked 1.5 years during the three-year period before your medical condition began.
  • Disabled between ages 24 and 31: You’ll need to have worked half of the period between when you turned 21 and when the disability began. For example, if you are disabled when you turn 27, you would need three years of work out of the six years between ages 21 and 27.
  • Disabled after age 31: You’ll need to have worked five years out of the 10-year period ending when your disability began.

Then, you must have a medical condition that meets the definition of disability according to the Social Security website:

  • You cannot do the work you were doing before because of your medical condition.
  • Your condition prevents you from adjusting to other work.
  • Your disability is expected to last more than a year or result in death.

Under SSDI, benefits do not begin until the sixth full month of your disability. Your monthly SSDI benefit amount depends on your work history, but the maximum you can receive (as of 2021) is $3148 per month.

Supplemental Security Income

Supplemental Security Income (SSI) is another federal program funded by the SSA which provides monthly payments to people with disabilities.

Unlike SSDI, the length of time you worked before your disability does not factor into your eligibility for SSI. To qualify for SSI, you must be age 65 or older, blind, and/or disabled. You must also meet the following requirements:

  • Have limited income. What amount of income qualifies as “limited” depends on which state you live in. Social Security doesn’t count certain income streams when making this calculation (for instance, food stamps, certain student scholarships, and money used to purchase disability accommodations).
  • Have limited resources. The SSA will count real estate, bank accounts, cash, stocks, and bonds when determining the amount of your resources. You can usually get SSI if your resources are worth $2,000 or less. Notably, the SSA doesn’t count the home/land where you live, your car, or certain burial funds when calculating your resources.
  • Live in the United States. Most citizens and certain non-citizens can receive SSI benefits. (Learn more about SSI for non-citizens here.)

Under SSI, benefits begin on the first of the month following the date your claim was filed. The maximum monthly benefit amount under SSI is $794 for single individuals and $1191 for a married couple.

If you have a qualifying work history and limited income/resources, you may simultaneously qualify for SSDI and SSI. When you’re injured after a car accident, these programs may be the lifeline you need.

State Disability Insurance

In addition to federal benefits, California has its own state disability insurance (SDI) program that provides temporary disability benefits to individuals for up to 52 weeks. Under SDI, benefits begin on the eighth day of disability, and the state caps benefits at $1357 per week. (Learn more about California’s state disability insurance program.)

An employee receives a medical exam while on leave.
Employees with more temporary medical conditions may opt to go on medical leave.

Medical Leave

When your injuries after a car accident prevent you from being able to work, it’s essential to consider all of your options—not just those related to a disability. Both federal and state laws allow for different leave options that may benefit you.

Family and Medical Leave Act

The Federal Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) allows eligible employees to take up to 12 weeks of unpaid, job-protected leave for specified family or medical reasons. These reasons can include:

  • A sudden, serious health condition that renders you unable to perform your job, and
  • Caring for your spouse, parent, or child who has a severe health condition, among other reasons.

If a car accident renders you temporarily incapacitated, you can take up to 12 weeks of leave under the FMLA and still have job security when you return to work. It is illegal for you to be fired during your 12 weeks of leave. In addition, you may continue to receive your employer’s health coverage while on leave.

Employees are eligible for leave under the FMLA if they have worked at the company for at least one year and worked at least 1,250 hours in a year. If you’re an eligible employee and your injuries did not result in a permanent disability, leave under the FMLA is an excellent way to get the healing you need without losing your job or standing at work.

California Family Rights Act

The California Family Rights Act (CFRA) contains many of the same provisions as the FMLA, but with a few expansions. As of 2021, employers with five or more employees will be required to provide employees with CFRA leave upon request, provided they are eligible for leave under the FMLA.

Under state law, employers are not required to pay you during a CFRA leave, but some do. Your employer may require you to use any paid time off, sick time, or vacation time you may have accrued during your leave.

Both FMLA and CFRA leave can be paired with federal and/or state disability insurance, depending on the nature and circumstances of your injury.

Unemployment Insurance

If for some reason your employment is terminated in the period following your accident, you may be eligible for state unemployment insurance (UI).

In California, you must meet three requirements to collect unemployment:

  1. You must be unemployed through no fault of your own.
  2. You must be physically able to work.
  3. You must be actively seeking employment.

You also must have earned enough wages during the 12-month “base period” before filing a claim to be eligible for unemployment benefits. To be eligible, you must have earned at least:

  • $1300 in the highest quarter (3-month period) of your year-long base period, or
  • $900 in your highest quarter, and total base period earnings of 1.25 times your highest quarter earnings.

Unemployment benefits will start, if approved, on your last day of employment. In most cases, this means you will receive back pay to your last day on the job. The maximum amount of unemployment benefits you can receive is $450 per week.

When you quit a job, you are almost always ineligible for unemployment benefits. If you get into a car accident and become unable to work, that alone might not make you eligible for UI if your employer chooses to keep you on staff.

However, if your employer terminates you, you may be able to apply for unemployment benefits. (If this happens to you, we highly recommend consulting one of our employment law attorneys about the circumstances surrounding your termination.)

Again, you must be unemployed “through no fault of your own” as well as “physically able to work” to be eligible for unemployment insurance. If your car accident has left you physically unable to work, you may have to look into other options.

When to Get Disability, Leave, or Unemployment

Generally, disability insurance and unpaid leave can be used in tandem, but disability insurance and unemployment benefits are mutually exclusive. Unemployment benefits are paid to employees who want to work but cannot find a job, whereas disability benefits are generally for people who cannot work at all or only in a minimal capacity. Unpaid leave and unemployment insurance are also mutually exclusive, as you cannot receive unemployment benefits while on leave.

When you suffer a non-work-related injury due to a car accident, your best chance of getting benefits may be to apply for disability insurance, either through the state or through Social Security.

Thankfully, you can apply for SSDI, SSI, and SDI at the same time. This, paired with unpaid leave under the FMLA/CFRA, can help you cover all your financial needs while you work to get better.

Because some benefits take several months to kick in and others can start fairly quickly, we recommend applying for all options available to you as soon as possible. The severity of your injury may affect which disability programs you are eligible for.

To help you navigate the application process and determine which disability program or programs are right for you, speak with our legal team at PARRIS. Our attorneys are equipped to help you navigate the world of insurance and apply for the programs that will best help you recover.

The Dangers of Double Dipping

As you’re recovering from injuries sustained in an accident, it might seem prudent to apply for both unemployment and disability benefits. However, we don’t recommend this.

If you apply for disability after already receiving unemployment benefits, approval for your disability claim may override your unemployment. If you continue to receive unemployment while receiving disability, the state may require you to pay back the unemployment benefits you have received. Even if the mistake was the state’s, not yours, you might still be required to pay back excessive UI.

In rare cases, it is possible to get both unemployment and disability. However, we caution against applying for both unless a trusted attorney has recommended you do so.

It’s Confusing—Let PARRIS Guide You

Suffering injuries in a car accident is frustrating enough. Navigating all of this information in the aftermath can make things even more difficult. That’s why we recommend hiring PARRIS car accident lawyers to help guide you through this process.

At PARRIS, we’ve been helping clients recover after car accidents for 36 years. Let our team help you understand your options and develop a plan that works for your specific situation.

Contact us today to speak with a trusted legal advisor. You won’t pay a cent in legal fees until we win for you the compensation you need to recover.

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