After any kind of accident, if you decide to file a personal injury claim, you always want to be on the same page with your doctor when it comes to your pain and disability status. If your doctor is of the opinion that you’re not hurt that seriously, or that you should feel better than you claim to at this stage of treatment, you’re going to have to take some action.
Why Difference of Opinion Matters
The reason you need your doctor to agree that your complaints of pain and disability are reasonable in the context of your claim is that, if your doctor disagrees with you, the insurer and the jury are going to side with the doctor's opinion over yours, every time.
Let's say you claim that you are in pain that is debilitating, keeping you from working or performing household chores, but your doctor gives an opinion that you shouldn’t be suffering any significant pain at this stage, certainly not pain that inhibits your job your lifestyle. The insurance company is going to jump all over your doctor's opinion and reduce any settlement offer accordingly. And if your case gets to trial, the jury is going to give a substantial amount of weight to your doctor's opinion, at the expense of yours.
Also, if your own doctor gives an opinion that you shouldn’t be feeling much pain, then the insurer might not even need to hire its own doctor to conduct an independent medical examination. It is always better for the insurer to get the opinion it wants from the plaintiff’s own doctor, because juries don’t always believe insurance company-affiliated doctors.
What Can You Do?
So, if you are having more pain than your doctor says you should be having, or, if you believe you are more disabled than your doctor says you are, you need to either:
- find a new doctor, or
- somehow convince your current doctor to change his/her mind.
Doctors don’t often change their minds about a patient’s condition or disability status unless they are presented with some really good evidence. So you'll need to come to your next exam with some new (or at least more specific) information about your physical condition. And make sure you remind your doctor about key aspects of your condition, in case some details were overlooked.
The "Doctor Shopping" Accusation
If you decide to change doctors, you need to prepare yourself for the defense attorney's accusation that you are "doctor shopping" -- meaning you're simply looking for a doctor who will offer an opinion that's favorable to your claim. If your personal injury lawsuit goes to trial, the jury may very well believe these allegations of "doctor shopping."
But if you have a good personal injury lawyer on your side, he or she will be able to fight this kind of allegation by showing that the choice of a new doctor is legitimate and necessary under the circumstances. But if you switch doctors three or four times, it's going to be difficult for even the best personal injury lawyer to cast that in a positive light. Think of it this way: You probably get one free chance to change doctors without your conduct being viewed as "doctor shopping."
So if you believe that you really need to change doctors, you should do some serious homework -- with the assistance of your attorney -- on who you should select for your next doctor. Since you are only going to get one “free swing” at a second doctor, the choice is going to have to be the right one.
Of course, regardless of what this new doctor has to say about your medical condition and the legitimacy of your injuries, the defendant can still compel you to undergo an "independent medical examination" by a doctor of their choosing. Learn more: Do I Have to Attend the Independent Medical Examination in My Personal Injury Case?