When people get hurt in any type of accident or mishap that was someone else’s fault, they often file a personal injury claim. The at-fault party’s insurance will then contact the injured party or victim in an attempt to work out a settlement.
But insurance companies are a business, and businesses exist to make money. When insurance companies get hit with big judgments, they lose money. So when a victim files an injury claim, insurance companies get to work trying to downplay the injuries and deflect liability. They do this all in an attempt to deny coverage, limit their pay-out, and keep their money.
But a lesser-known tactic that insurance companies use to limit their exposure is called an independent medical exam (IME). So if you get a request from the insurer to submit to such an exam, you need to know what it is and prepare. The best way to know if you must submit to the exam, and how to behave if you must, is to talk to an experienced injury attorney beforehand.
What Is an Independent Medical Exam?
Washington law allows insurance companies to request independent medical exams when someone files an injury claim against them. In theory, IMEs are supposed to consist of an independent, impartial doctor providing an unbiased account of a patient’s injuries. In reality, however, the doctors that perform these exams are hired and paid by the insurer. In fact, there are doctors who make hundreds of thousands of dollars each year from IMEs.
Independent or Not?
So think about it. If Acme Insurance Company hires Dr. Spock to do IMEs on claimants, what is Acme hoping for at the conclusion of these exams? They are trying to save their company money, and they pay less if the victim’s injuries are minimal. So Acme hopes that Dr. Spock will report that the plaintiffs are not very injured, or provide some medical reason why compensation is not warranted. If Dr. Spock repeatedly finds that the victim’s injuries are significant, Acme has to pay out much more money in damages. After a few big pay-outs, what do you think are the chances that Acme will continue to use Dr. Spock for their IMEs?
Of course, they won’t. Acme will look elsewhere to find a doctor who is willing to tell them what they want to hear. So if Dr. Spock wants to continue getting business from Acme, he will tweak his reports to make them happy.
This is why some injury attorneys refer to IMEs as insurance medical exams instead of independent medical exams. Because the insurer orders and pays for the exams, this essentially means that the examining doctor works for the insurance company. So if you get a request to attend such an exam, call your attorney right away.
How to Prepare for an IME
Again, the first thing you should do when you get a request for an IME is to call your attorney. An IME is not necessary in every case, and your lawyer can tell you if you need to submit to the exam. If you do, they can also help you prepare. Here are some tips for the IME in an injury claim.
Bring a Witness
In Washington, you can bring your lawyer with you to your IME. If you can not bring your lawyer, bring someone you trust. You need a witness in case the doctor harasses you, treats you badly, or lies on their report. The law allows you to record your exam. So it is an extremely good idea to have your lawyer or witness videotape the exam. Then, when the doctor claims they did something that they did not do or vice versa, you have the evidence to refute them. If you rely on your memory, it turns into a game of “he said, she said.” And when you are up against a doctor who does this for a living, the judge or jury may believe the doctor over you. Don’t leave it to chance. Press “record,” and let the evidence speak for itself.
Do Not Minimize or Exaggerate
When you answer the doctor’s questions, be honest and be brief. Under no circumstances should you minimize your symptoms, nor should you exaggerate them. The doctor will likely use language intended to lead you to answers that minimize your injuries. Do not fall for it. In fact, that is another good reason to have your attorney present. If the doctor’s questions get too one-sided, your lawyer will know. They can then step in and protect you from misleading or leading questions. Remember, it is not your job to make the doctor happy. It is your job to be clear, concise, and truthful. And never offer up information that the doctor doesn’t ask for.
Even though the doctor is working for the opposition, there is no need to be rude.
Know That Someone Is Observing You
As you drive up to the doctor’s office, be aware that medical personnel are observing your every move. From the moment you arrive in the parking lot, people are observing you, and they can include anything they see in your report. For instance, if you run from the parking lot to the door, this can harm your leg injury claim. Or if you claim you cannot lift things but cameras show you lifting your three-year-old out of the car, this fact will likely make its way into your report. So keep in mind that they can observe everything you do from the parking lot, to the waiting room, to the exam room, and back.
Do Not Speculate
If the doctor asks you to guess or speculate in any way about your injuries, refuse to do so. You are not a doctor or a medical professional. They should not even ask you these types of questions. But if they try to get you to comment about your future prognosis or abilities, don’t take the bait.
Prepare to Fight Back
If the report comes back and its conclusions are unfair or just plain wrong, don’t panic. You can fight back, and your attorney will know exactly what to do next.
Put Your Trust in Us
The experienced injury lawyers at Brett McCandlis Brown & Connor, PLLC, are intimately familiar with the tactics used by insurers to deny or minimize your claim. Our legal team has over 40 years of combined experience. We have impressive case results that stand as a testimony to the world-class legal services we provide. So do not delay. Give us a call at 1-206-489-3231 to set up your free initial consultation, or contact us online today.