Accident victims should always seek immediate medical attention. Accidents can cause acute injuries requiring immediate treatment as well as injuries that may not be apparent for days or weeks after the accident. Personal injury attorneys know that a medical exam immediately after an accident serves two purposes: 1) to treat injuries; 2) to provide a baseline for measuring improvement or decline in the victim’s physical and mental health.
In addition to obtaining treatment from their own physicians, accident victims represented by personal injury attorneys often must undergo a medical exam by a doctor chosen by the lawyers representing the person who hurt them. California law allows these examinations, called “Independent Medical Examinations” or IMEs. A doctor’s exams can be stressful under the best circumstances. In the midst of litigation, they can cause extreme anxiety and stress.
The personal injury attorneys at Reiner, Slaughter & Frankel LLP help accident victims navigate both the medical and legal process. They want all accident victims to understand their rights and the personal injury attorney’s role related to IME’s.
What is an Independent Medical Examination?
An IME is an examination by one or more medical experts in the context of a personal injury lawsuit. In such a lawsuit, the accident victim (the plaintiff) sues the person who caused the accident (the defendant). The defendant usually has insurance, so the insurance company pays any compensation owed to the victim. The insurance company’s goal is to pay as little as possible in claims. One way that defendants fight lawsuits is by having a medical expert say that the victim’s injuries are exaggerated, or the accident did not cause them.
The rules governing personal injury attorneys and accident litigation, the California Code of Civil Procedure (CCP) sections 2032.010-2032.650, explain how and when the defendant can require a plaintiff to undergo a medical examination by doctors the defendant chooses.
While the exam is called an “Independent Medical Examination,” the medical experts are not independent; they work for the defendant. The purpose of the IME is to resolve the defendant’s questions about the plaintiff’s medical condition.
The CCP lists the rights of the plaintiff and restrictions that apply to the IME. For example, the exam must be conducted within 75 miles of where the plaintiff lives, and the exam cannot include any tests or procedures that are painful or intrusive. The scope of the exam is limited to the plaintiff’s personal injury claims.
A Personal Injury Attorney’s Role in IME’s
Two of the most common reasons a defendant requests an IME are
- The defendant disagrees with the plaintiff’s doctor about a diagnosis or recommended course of treatment.
- The defendant disagrees with the extent of permanent disability resulting from the accident.
In both situations, the IME is not the objective exam it sounds like. Instead, the goal of the exam is to find information that contradicts the plaintiff’s claims.
The IME does not look or feel like a regular medical exam. The examiner is not the patient’s doctor, so there is no doctor-patient relationship or privilege. A personal injury attorney and a court reporter may be in the exam room. CCP § 2032.510 allows them to observe the exam and to record “any words spoken to or by the examinee during any phase of the examination.”
The plaintiff’s words and actions during the exam can be used against the plaintiff. Therefore, the personal injury attorney must fully explain a plaintiff’s rights related to the IME. The attorney’s role is to protect the plaintiff’s rights and ensure that the IME is conducted according to law. For example, there are limits to what the medical examiner may ask the plaintiff and some areas of questioning are prohibited, such as the plaintiff’s medical history and how the accident occurred. Additionally, the CCP provides specific time frames during which everything related to the IME must occur and requires specific information to be provided to the plaintiff about the IME, such as the time, place, manner, scope and nature of the examination as well as the identity and specialty, if any, of the physician who will perform the exam. The plaintiff has the right to object to an exam if the defendant doesn’t follow all the rules related to the IME.
A Personal Injury Attorney’s Response to the IME
After the IME, the plaintiff’s personal injury lawyer can request a copy of the IME report. The defense must produce the report within 30 days of the demand or the examination, whichever occurs last. Experienced personal injury lawyers know the impact of such requests on the plaintiff’s medical records and the plaintiff’s right of privacy related to such documents. The attorney will advise the plaintiff of the best course of action related to all medical reports and records.
It is not uncommon for an IME doctor to disagree with the plaintiff’s doctor’s assessment or recommendations. The personal injury attorney’s job is to convince the defense or a judge or jury that the plaintiff’s physicians are more credible than the IME doctor and the defense medical experts.
Accident victims who proceed with a personal injury claim without help from an experienced attorney are at a severe disadvantage. Always consult with a lawyer before speaking with an insurance company or making decisions about the claim.
The experienced personal injury attorneys at Reiner, Slaughter & Frankel LLP protect clients’ rights at every step of the process. They work tirelessly to resolve cases for the maximum compensation allowed, and they help victims get the expert care and compensation they deserve.