If you’ve recently been in a car accident, you may be feeling overwhelmed by the number of things you need to do, from contacting your insurance to follow up with medical providers. It’s a lot to handle, especially if you’ve been badly injured. Unfortunately, if you don’t take the right steps after a car accident, it can be hard to file an insurance claim or collect damages. What’s even worse, though, is that you can do everything right and still face scrutiny. That’s because, in car accident cases, victims can be required to undergo an independent medical examination (IME).
What Is An IME?
Typically, individuals who have been injured in car accidents will call 9-1-1, head to the emergency room or urgent care, or see their personal physician about any injuries they’ve suffered. Makes sense, right? Not if you’re filing a personal injury claim in court. If you’re seeking damages, you will almost always be expected to get a second opinion from a specialist chosen by the insurance company. As almost any lawyer will tell you, this isn’t exactly independent, but courts and insurance companies want to be certain that the information presented isn’t biased by your preexisting relationship to your doctor.
What’s Different About An IME?
Part of pursuing an IME includes getting appropriate documentation of any injuries you’ve suffered, but what sort of documentation counts? The record trail starts with your personal physician. According to Lane & Lane, the doctor you see immediately after your accident will document all of the injuries that your accidents caused. That being said, these records aren’t terribly important because it’s the lasting injuries that really matter. Your personal health insurance will likely cover your initial injuries; it’s the lasting damages and extra expenses that will really shape your court case.
When you go to your IME appointment, it’s important to know that you’re being watched. This is a total observation, not just a medical exam, and there will be someone observing you from the moment you step out of your vehicle. The doctor will ask about your accident and perform an exam, but if they ask to do more than that, proceed with caution. You should never take any tests, from blood tests to x-rays, without your attorney’s permission.
Navigating The Process
Many lawyers consider IMEs to be fixed; they argue that these doctors aren’t independent and are predisposed to document cases in ways that favor the insurance companies, not accident victims. This is a contentious claim, but it may contain a grain of truth. With this in mind, most lawyers recommend bringing a friend or family member with you to your appointment and have them take notes throughout the process. They can serve as a witness in the event that there’s a disagreement about your exam when you arrive in court.
Some people have also asked about recording their IME, but many doctors won’t allow you to do this, and in many states, you need the other party’s permission to record the interaction. A recent court case also held that IME observers’ notes are privileged and don’t need to be disclosed in court; they may not even be subject to subpoena. This limits the information you can present to the court and underscores the importance of bringing your own observer.
IMEs are a contentious part of the legal process, but unfortunately, they’re an integral part of recovering damages after a car accident, so the best you can do is document the process well and advocate for yourself. Your doctor may be less biased than the provider you see for your IME, but unless you cooperate with the process, you’ll compromise your case and leave yourself even more vulnerable than you were before.