What Is An Independent Medical Examination?
The term “independent medical evaluation” basically evolved out of the rules of civil procedure. When someone brings an injury lawsuit, they are usually being treated by physicians that they have chosen. An independent medical examination allows the defense counsel and the defendant’s insurance company to pick a doctor of their choosing to examine the claimant’s injuries.
However, the use of the term “independent” in this context is unfair and often misleading, because the physician who performs the examination will have been hand-picked by the defense attorney and/or insurance company.
Unfortunately, we often find that there is a listing of physicians and other evaluators who they will typically send injured clients to and who they know will give a biased opinion that will underestimate or completely discount the client’s injuries. In short, they are not really independent examinations; they are more of a hired gun on behalf of the defense counsel and the insurance carriers. This is something that the defense is allowed to do under the rules. At their own expense, they can have an injured person who has brought a claim to be evaluated by another physician who potentially can testify in the trial.
We neutralize this by being prepared for it and by going through a pretty elaborate protocol as to how to prepare an injured person to see a physician who is not of their own choosing. If necessary, we will make sure that the bias of the “independent” evaluator is brought to the forefront in court. There are various ways of doing that, and we have done it pretty effectively over the years.
Will My Future Medical Costs Be Taken Into Account In A Personal Injury Settlement?
Future medical costs will be taken into account in a personal injury settlement. At any given fixed point in time when we are discussing settlement with an insurance carrier, there is always the possibility (and sometimes a likelihood) of continuing treatment costs. In fact, some people will need treatment for the rest of their life. We work with a very good team of doctors who are good at estimating future care needs. While no one can predict exactly what will be needed, exactness is not necessary; we just have to rely upon the opinions of competent physicians and other healthcare providers and essentially ask them, “At this point in the recovery, what treatment will likely be needed in the future and how much will it cost?” We rarely, if ever, settle cases without having a pretty good handle on knowing what the future treatment costs will be.
How Will Pre-Existing Conditions Impact My Personal Injury Settlement?
A pre-existing condition could impact a personal injury settlement in a number of ways. In several cases that I am working on right now, the plaintiffs were injured several years ago, suffering spinal injuries, and they healed to the point where they were not experiencing symptoms on a daily or regular basis. Doctors refer to this as being “asymptomatic”, meaning that they are not in pain, not under a doctor’s care, and not actively seeking treatment. However, they still have a history of lower back injury. Depending upon how far back that injury goes, the plaintiff may have to disclose it to the oppositions insurance carrier. However, we have some really good case law in Colorado which still supports a person in a situation I describe here, where they have a pre-existing condition.
There is an old tenant in the law which says, “The defendant takes the plaintiff as they are.” This is sometimes called the “Thin Skull Doctrine”, meaning that injuries affect people differently. There are some people who could be in a car collision and be very minimally injured, if at all, and there are other people who, for whatever reason, would have sustained serious injuries from the same accident. We have to determine how much of a particular injury or event caused the existing set of circumstances and symptoms.
Our argument is that if someone was symptom-free before a particular trauma, then 100 percent of their current symptoms and need for treatment are related to the recent event in question. The degree to which a pre-existing condition will impact a personal injury settlement varies. It will be brought up by the opposing parties insurance adjusters and their attorneys. The proper way to handle it is by having physicians support that viewpoint because that is an accurate statement under Colorado law.
I tell my clients that they need to be honest and disclose prior injuries and treatments, but that doing so should in no way disqualify their claim. In fact, we can even sometimes use a pre-existing condition to our advantage by arguing that the plaintiff’s condition was significantly worsened by the event(auto crash, slip and fall, etc.) in question. The law is that the defendant should not get the benefit of the fact that a plaintiff was previously injured. We all have different medical histories, and some of us have been in collisions before, while others have not. Rest assured that we are extremely familiar with these issues and that we know how to best utilize the law to support our clients any given set of facts where these issues come into play, to maximize our clients recovery.
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