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Can the IRS Take My Personal Injury Settlement in Hawaii ?

When it comes to personal injury claims, it isn’t surprising to find that most are settled out of court before or during the trial. Once you have accepted the settlement offer from the other party and signed a release, the case is considered closed.

After receiving the amount, as a personal injury claimant, you will have several things to consider. What comes next? Can you keep the entire amount received (excluding the attorney’s fees)? Do you owe anything to the IRS?

In general, it is always advised to prioritize non-taxable objectives over taxable ones. To do this successfully, you need to understand the consequences of your decision in terms of taxes. This is the best way to ensure that you can obtain the tax benefits available to you.

Let’s take a look at some important income tax considerations in a personal injury settlement.

Compensation for Physical Injury

Typically, the amount received in a personal injury settlement is not taxable under the federal or state law. Whether you settled the case before or after filing a personal injury lawsuit in court will not impact this outcome either. As per personal injury law, even if you went to trial and won the settlement, the amount received will still be non-taxable.

Neither the federal government (the IRS) not the state government can tax your settlement amount or the proceeds in the majority of personal injury cases.

The federal law tax excludes compensation received due to personal physical injuries or physical sickness from your income. A physical sickness refers to a claim for an illness. For instance, if you were carelessly exposed to a virus that made you physically unwell, you can be eligible for compensation. Any damages you receive due to the illness will not be taxable.

In other words, personal injury damages that are supposed to compensate for factors such as medical bills, lost wages, pain and suffering, emotional distress, loss of consortium, and lawyer payments are not taxable as long as they arise due to personal injury or physical sickness.

There Are Always Exceptions

Having said that, if you suffer a physical injury or a physical illness, you may be taxed on damages related to breach of contract. This means that you will have to pay taxes on the settlement received if the breach of contract was the foundation of your lawsuit, and the breach caused your injury.

Other than this, punitive damages are also taxable. In the case of the punitive damages claim, your lawyer will ask the judge to separate the verdict into compensatory and punitive damages. This arrangement will enable you to show to the IRS that a certain portion of the verdict is compensatory damages and should not be taxable.

Another taxable element in the personal injury verdict is interest on the judgement. In most states, the court adds interest to the verdict for the duration of time that the case was pending.

If you filed your lawsuit on January 1, 2020, for instance, you should receive interest on the verdict starting from that date itself. The interest continues to run until you receive the settlement amount. If you win the trial on January 10, 2021, but the defendant challenges the verdict and does not pay you until March 31, 2022, you will be eligible to receive interest worth of two years and three months. The interest is paid on the amount of the unpaid verdict, and is taxable.

As mentioned, the settlement is non-taxable only when it is received due to a physical injury or physical sickness. If you have a claim for emotional distress or workplace harassment/discrimination, but no actual physical injury to show, then your settlement will be taxable.

In fact, if the proceeds from emotional distress do not arise from a physical injury, they may have to be reported as “other income.”

You will need to prove that you have suffered a physical injury, even the slightest, to make the settlement non-taxable.

Factors to Consider When Filing Taxes after Settling

If you’re still confused about owing taxes on your personal injury settlement, here are a few pointers to bear in mind.

  • Lost wages: This aspect comes into play in employment-related settlements. If you have been compensated for involuntary termination or discrimination, the settlement will likely be taxable as it will not be considered a personal injury.
  • Interest: Any amount received as interest on any settlement income is taxable.
  • Loss-in-value of property: Property settlement for loss in the value of property is usually non-taxable if it is lower than the adjusted basis of your property. If it is greater, the surplus amount is taxable.
  • Health Insurance Marketplace: If there is an increase in your income due to punitive damages, do inform the Marketplace about it to help them understand your tax liability.

Ensuring Non-Taxability of Settlement

In some cases, you may have two claims against the defendant, and only one of them might be related to personal injury. In this situation, you may want to clearly state in the settlement agreement how much amount relates to the personal injury claim and how much to the other claim. This should be ensured if your personal injury claim is higher than the non-personal injury claim.

This clear and specific allocation of the settlement amount will let the IRS know about what is and isn’t taxable in the settlement, should they challenge the verdict.

How a Hawaii Personal Injury Lawyer Can Help

An experienced lawyer has dealt with every aspect of personal injury cases and knows how the IRS works with respect to taxing settlements. Having a good personal injury lawyer in your corner will ensure that your rights and interests are always protected.

They can also negotiate a suitable settlement for your injuries. Additionally, they can efficiently resolve your queries about how your personal injury settlement can be subjected to taxes in Hawaii.


Handling legal matters in Hawaii can get complex, especially when financials comes into the picture. This is why working with a seasoned Hawaii personal injury lawyer makes perfect sense. Hopefully, the above information will help you understand what is and isn’t taxable as far as your personal injury settlement amount is concerned. For further clarity, it is always recommended to get in touch with a competent personal injury attorney. Reach us at (808) 427-1025