If you have filed a lawsuit over injuries you suffered in a car accident, chances are you will be required to submit to an examination by a doctor other than your own. This step in the lawsuit is known as an "independent medical examination" (or "IME") and it's conducted by a doctor chosen by the defendant (the at-fault driver) or, more accurately, by the defendant's insurance company (and their lawyers). Read on to learn more about the IME, and why it's not actually "independent."
Why an IME Is Held
Car accident cases involving serious injuries can result in large settlements (before trial) or court judgments (after trial), typically paid by the insurance company representing the driver who caused the accident. Since the insurance company is pn the financial hook, they want to verify that:
- you have indeed suffered an injury
- the injury is as serious as you say it is and
- the injury was caused by the car accident (and not some pre-existing condition, for example.
An IME is the mechanism by which the insurance company can best obtain this verification. The independent physician presumably has no bias in favor of either the plaintiff or defendant, and can therefore make objective findings about the alleged injuries. That's the theory anyway. In practice, the insurance company and the chosen physician usually have a working relationship, and it's not uncommon for an IME doctor to play down the claimant's injuries.
If and When an IME Is Ordered
Since the "independence" of an IME isn't always a given, your attorney may advise you not to submit to the exam (especially if your attorney is aware of the chosen physician's history of siding with the insurance company).
In such instances, the defense may seek the court’s assistance in compelling you to appear for an IME. If your car accident case has reached the lawsuit phase, and you're alleging injuries, chances are the court will order you to attend the IME. Conversely, where no injuries are alleged or where the injuries have entirely resolved, the court might not compel you to attend the IME. (More: Do I Have to Attend the Independent Medical Examination?)
When an IME is ordered by the court, the defendant must give you adequate notice and may not impose an undue hardship on you, i.e. making you travel an unnecessarily long distance to the examination. The defendant will usually only be permitted to conduct one IME and will be responsible for covering the costs associated with the exam.
What Happens during an IME
During the IME, you will be examined by a qualified physician designated by the defendant. Besides the physical exam, the doctor will ask you questions about the car accident, the specifics of your injuries and symptoms, and your course of treatment so far.
You should answer all questions truthfully and refrain from embellishing your injuries, but you should also keep in mind that the IME physician, although not necessarily biased, has been hired by the defendant's insurer.
What Happens After an IME?
After the IME has been completed, the doctor will prepare an IME report and send it to the defendant’s insurance company. The report will be shared with you as part of the normal pre-trial discovery process. The IME report will detail the doctor's examination of you, your medical history, the medical records reviewed, and all of the doctor's observations, findings and opinions. Don't be surprised if the doctor's conclusions are a little more friendly to the defendant's side of the claim than to yours.
If you have to submit to an IME, make sure you discuss the exam with your attorney. That way you'll know exactly what to expect, what to say (and not say) and how to make sure your rights are protected. For in-depth information and tips for protecting yourself during and after the exam, check out What Is an Independent Medical Examination?