Independent Medical Examination
Serious injury accidents can involve significant financial compensation, either from the person at fault or from an insurance company. Defendants responsible for paying for physical injuries sustained in an accident want to know the extent of any injuries before a jury makes them compensate the victim for their damages. An evaluation from a doctor other than the victim's doctor may be required in a personal injury case. This is known as an "independent medical evaluation" (IME).
Reasons for an IME
A victim of a serious accident may be examined and treated by their own doctor after an accident. One concern is that the victim's own doctor may be somewhat biased towards the victim in assessing the extent of the injuries. The party being sued for compensation for the victim's injuries may want to have an independent physician examine the victim or provide a second opinion. This also applies if the victim has not yet been examined.
The independent physician may examine the injury victim to:
- Make sure the victim did sustain injuries;
- Affirm that the injuries are as serious as the victim claims; and
- Make sure the injury claim is not attributable to a different cause.
If the accident involves workers' compensation to pay for medical treatment or ongoing treatment for a medical condition, such as a new disability, an independent medical examiner report (IME report) can be required.
When IMEs Can Be Ordered
If the injured party does not wish to attend an independent medical examination, he or she may be compelled to do so in certain circumstances. For example, many states have passed laws allowing insurance companies to compel an independent medical examination when a claim seems questionable.
An IME may only be compelled when the insurance policy contains language requiring the insured party to submit to an exam. The insured may not be required to submit to an exam if the circumstances of the exam would amount to an undue burden, such as requiring the insured to travel long distances from home.
Most states also have court rules which provide that a judge may order an independent medical examination under certain circumstances. Usually, an examination can be ordered if a person's physical or mental injuries are in dispute. However, if a person claims to have physical injuries but only sues for damages to a vehicle, an examination would not be ordered.
Examinations may also be ordered in lawsuits other than personal injury claims. For example, an examination may be ordered in a child custody dispute to determine whether a parent is emotionally stable enough to maintain custody of a child.
If an IME Is Ordered
If an independent medical examination is ordered, the injured party may be required to submit to more than one exam. However, the party seeking to compel an examination is often required to pay for the examination. The injured party's attorney may be allowed to attend the examination and may hire a videographer to record the exam as well.
Sometimes the party attempting to compel the examination may choose the examining physician. In such cases, it is a bit of a misnomer to call it an independent medical exam, since the physician is really the other party's expert witness. Some states' court rules recognize this and instead call it a "defense medical exam." At any rate, it is a mistake to assume that the physician chosen by the other party is going to be neutral and truly independent. It is wise to consult an attorney before attending an IME.
Talk to a Lawyer Before an Independent Medical Examination
If you've been injured in an accident and plan to recover money from someone else for your injuries, it's safe to assume that you will be required to submit to an independent medical evaluation. However, in order to better protect your rights, it's in your best interests to meet with a personal injury attorney first.
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