Understanding Federal Taxes: Is a Personal Injury Settlement Taxable in 2024?

Are you wondering, “is a personal injury settlement taxable?” Many people want to know if their personal injury settlement will affect their taxes? Simply put, most settlements for physical injuries aren’t taxable, but you might owe taxes on parts of it like punitive damages. Our guide will help you sort out what’s taxable and what’s not, so you can focus on your recovery with one less worry.

Key Takeaways

  • Most personal injury settlement amounts are non-taxable under IRC Section 104(a)(2), except punitive damages and certain non-physical injury-related compensations which can be taxable.
  • Compensation for physical injuries is generally tax-free, while settlements for emotional distress are taxable unless they result from physical injury or sickness. Compensation for lost wages is also taxable as it is considered income.
  • Legal fees influence the taxable amount of a settlement; understanding the tax treatment of lump-sum vs. structured settlements can lead to different tax liabilities.
  • *One caution here — because we are personal injury attorneys and don’t specialize in tax law, you should always double check any advice with your tax accountant or tax attorney.

Understanding the Tax Status of Personal Injury Settlements

Personal injury settlement documents and calculator

Personal injury settlements are typically not considered taxable income at the federal level. Thanks to the Internal Revenue Code (IRC) Section 104(a)(2), damages received on account of personal physical injuries or physical sickness are excluded from gross income. This reinforcement of tax exemption by the IRS makes the majority of personal injury settlements tax-free, offering financial relief to those affected. Additionally, because Virginia does not use itemized verdict forms as part of personal injury settlements, there is no clear way to delineate what portion of the settlement money may be taxable.

Even though most personal injury settlements are not taxable, it is still important to understand that some aspects of a personal injury settlement may be technically taxable. For example, punitive damages – intended to penalize the defendant – are generally included in gross income. As a result, figuring out the tax status of your personal injury settlement is a little like putting a puzzle together, with each piece representing a different facet of the settlement.

The IRS’s Stance on Personal Injury Settlements

Under the Internal Revenue Code (IRC) Section 61, all income, unless explicitly exempted, is taxable. However, the IRS provides a reprieve for victims of personal physical injuries or physical sickness under IRC Section 104(a)(2), which allows taxpayers to exclude these damages from their gross income.

While this exemption provides significant relief to those dealing with personal physical injuries, it doesn’t typically extend to punitive damages. Unless linked to wrongful death cases in certain states, punitive damages remain taxable. While punitive damages typically apply to very few personal injury cases, understanding these distinctions is important to navigating your personal injury settlement’s tax implications.

* Just a reminder here – the Ritchie Law Firm specializes in personal injury cases. Please consult a tax professional for additional information.

Distinction Between Physical and Non-Physical Injuries

Within personal injury cases, the type of injury often significantly influences whether a recovery will be taxed. Physical injury settlements are generally non-taxable. However, the IRS takes a different stand when it comes to non-physical injuries. For instance, settlements for emotional distress or non-physical harm are taxable unless directly connected to a physical injury or sickness. In Virginia, personal injury settlements are usually not itemized. This makes it nearly impossible to determine what portion of a settlement might be taxable. As a result, at the Ritchie Law Firm, we counsel our clients that generally Virginia personal injury settlements are not taxable, but you should check with a tax professional if you would like additional information.

Compensation Breakdown: What Parts of a Settlement May Be Taxed?

Medical expenses reimbursement form

Within personal injury settlements, compensation often isn’t universally equal. While settlements for physical harm or sickness are tax-free, other components of a settlement are technically supposed to be taxed, if the components of the settlement can be itemized. According to IRC Section 61, all income, unless exempted, is taxable. So, taxable portions of a personal injury settlement should be reported accordingly and understanding the breakdown of your settlement is important for navigating its tax implications.

Medical Expenses Reimbursement

Medical expense reimbursements, often covering medical bills, usually make up a significant part of a personal injury settlement. These reimbursements are usually not taxable if the related medical expenses were not previously deducted on tax returns.

On the other hand, if these medical expenses were previously deducted, they may turn taxable if you receive a personal injury settlement. If you previously deducted medical expenses for an injury and later received compensation for those expenses, you may need to report the settlement income as taxable. This is because the compensation is meant to reimburse the deducted medical expenses..

*Please note – In each of the above scenarios, a consultation with a tax professional ensures accurate accounting of these expenses and can prevent potential tax problems.

Lost Wages and Income

Person calculating income taxes

Compensation for lost wages is usually another important element of a personal injury settlement. Reimbursements for lost wages are generally considered taxable income under Internal Revenue Code Section 61. This also applies to dismissal pay, severance pay, or payments for involuntary termination of employment, which fall under wages for federal employment tax purposes and are taxable according to the IRS. However, it is important to note again that Virginia settlements usually aren’t itemized for specific categories of a settlement. For this reason, our firm advises our clients that Virginia personal injury settlements are typically not taxable income.

However, settlements awarded in the context of employment-related lawsuits compensating for economic losses, including missed wages or business income, may not excludable from gross income unless they result from a personal physical injury. Compensation received for lost profits may also subject a personal injury settlement recipient to self-employment tax. Therefore, grasping these distinctions aids in accurately navigating your settlement’s tax implications.

*Another reminder here – Again, because tax laws change frequently, it’s important to speak with your tax professional to double check whether certain portions of your settlement may be taxable.

Emotional Distress and Mental Anguish

Many times, the emotional impact of a personal injury can equal, if not surpass, the physical injuries sustained in the accident. However, the tax implications of emotional distress and mental anguish recoveries are very complex. Damages for emotional distress not linked to a physical injury or sickness are generally included in gross income and taxable. However, if these damages are attributable to a physical injury or sickness, they are excluded from gross income and not taxable.

While recoveries for emotional distress from non-physical injuries are taxable, related unreimbursed actual medical expenses can be deducted from income. The taxability of these damages often depends on the individual situation and the clarity of the settlement agreement. Because personal injury settlements in Virginia usually are not itemized by category of damages, the Ritchie Law Firm advises our clients that in most cases personal injury settlements are not taxable. For more detailed information about your specific situation, please contact a tax professional.

Special Considerations for Punitive Damages

Punitive damages are another integral part of personal injury settlements. Usually, punitive damages are not included in the typical personal injury settlement. However, the IRS says that punitive damages received as part of a personal injury settlement are taxable, regardless of the nature of the injury that prompted the case. If you know your personal injury settlement included punitive damages, these damages are generally not excludable from gross income and should be reported as ‘other income’ on tax returns.

Legal documents and gavel

Navigating Taxation in Specific Personal Injury Cases

The nature of a personal injury case can substantially affect a settlement’s tax implications. Specific types of personal injury cases, such as car accidents and wrongful death settlements, have their own unique tax considerations.

For instance, compensatory damages for wrongful death settlements are generally not taxed. These damages aim to compensate the recipient for a loss, making the recipient whole from a wrong, and thus, are generally not taxable.

Car Accident Settlements

Car accidents represent a common type of personal injury case. When it comes to car accident settlements, settlement money received for physical injuries is not considered taxable income by the IRS. This tax exemption extends to emotional distress resulting from a physical injury as part of a car accident settlement.

However, damages awarded for emotional distress, independent of a physical injury, must be declared as income to the IRS but may involve deductible medical care costs. Therefore, navigating tax implications in car accident settlements can be a complex process, requiring an in-depth understanding of tax laws.

*Another reminder here – Again, because tax laws change frequently and are very complex, it’s important to speak with your tax professional to double check whether certain portions of your settlement may be taxable.

Wrongful Death Settlements

Wrongful death settlements carry their own unique tax implications. Generally, compensation damages for wrongful death settlements are not taxed. The IRS views these damages as a means to make the recipient whole from a wrong and excludes them from taxation.

This exemption extends to:

  • Loss of past and future support and services
  • Compensation for a surviving spouse’s mental pain and suffering
  • Recovery of medical or funeral expenses paid by a survivor

Asking a tax professional to help you understand these specific tax implications can help navigating the complex landscape of wrongful death settlements.

Filing tax return form

Consulting Professionals: When to Seek Advice from a Personal Injury Lawyer or Tax Professional

Navigating the complexities of tax implications in personal injury settlements can be overwhelming. This is where professional advice comes into play. Due to statutes of limitations impacting the right to seek compensation, it’s imperative to consult a personal injury attorney as soon as possible after an injury.

An experienced personal injury attorney provides personalized guidance, peace of mind, and representation in negotiations with insurance companies. Upon settlement, consulting a tax professional is crucial to understand settlement structuring and prevent unexpected tax liabilities. A discussion about tax implications with both a personal injury attorney and a tax professional guarantees a comprehensive understanding of potential tax responsibilities.


Personal injury settlements can be a lifeline for those who have suffered due to the negligence or intentional misconduct of others. However, navigating the tax implications of these settlements can be complex and challenging. From understanding the IRS’s stance on personal injury settlements to breaking down the compensation components and considering the impact of legal fees, every aspect of a settlement has potential tax implications. Consulting professionals, such as personal injury lawyers and tax professionals, can offer invaluable guidance in this process. As personal injury claimants, understanding these tax implications can help you maximize your settlement and secure your financial future.

Frequently Asked Questions

What type of settlements are not taxable?

For personal injury settlements in Virginia, the Ritchie Law Firm advises its clients that most settlements are not taxable. Physical symptom settlements, such as those related to medical expenses, are typically nontaxable, unless the expenses were previously deducted from taxes.

Can the IRS take my personal injury settlement if I owe back taxes?

The IRS will not touch your personal injury settlement as it is not considered as “income” but reimbursement. However, if the IRS has a lien on your property and the settlement funds are deposited into your personal bank account, they may take a portion to cover your unpaid taxes. Please consult with a tax professional for further information.

Are punitive damages taxable?

Yes, punitive damages are taxable and should be reported as “Other Income” on your tax return, regardless of the reason for receiving them.

Are all personal injury settlements taxable?

Most personal injury settlements for physical injuries or sickness are not taxable at the federal level.

Talk with a Virginia Personal Injury Lawyer

If you or a loved one suffered significant injuries as a result of a car accident in Virginia or West Virginia, Ritchie Law Firm is here to help.  The experienced, certified attorneys at the Ritchie Law Firm have helped thousands of injured victims and their families recover the compensation they deserve after an accident. We have helped thousands of injured people get the money they deserve after they’ve been injured. Call today to get your free case evaluation and free consultation — 800-277-6124.

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Ritchie Law Firm is a personal injury law firm devoted to helping individuals who have suffered serious and catastrophic injuries or lost a loved one as a result of someone else’s negligence. Ritchie Law Firm serves all of Virginia, while helping clients in cities and surrounding areas of Harrisonburg, Charlottesville, Staunton, and Winchester also serves clients in West Virginia, including Martinsburg, WV.

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