Get Necessary Medical Care After Your Car Accident

Protect your health and maximize your potential injury claim by getting the right medical care after a car accident.

By , J.D. · University of San Francisco School of Law

If you're injured in a car accident, emergency services might come to the scene and take you to the closest hospital for treatment. But what about seemingly minor car accidents, where there's little or no immediate pain or noticeable discomfort?

In this article, we'll explain:

  • why it's crucial to get proper medical care after a car accident, for your health, but also for any personal injury claim you might make
  • the importance of keeping (and examining) all medical records related to treatment of your car accident injuries, and
  • other key steps to take after a car accident, as you weigh your options.

When You Should Get Medical Attention After a Car Accident

A lot of personal injury attorneys have stories about clients coming into their offices saying they felt no pain at the scene of their car accident, or later the same day. But the following morning they woke up feeling a variety of symptoms, including:

  • pain
  • numbness
  • stiffness
  • dizziness
  • nausea, or
  • headaches.

It can take several hours, several days or even a week for injuries or serious discomfort to register with a car accident victim. Learn more about common car accident injuries.

One reason for this is that your body responds to pain signals and the stress of the accident by producing morphine-like hormones called endorphins. Endorphins (and adrenaline) mask the pain until your body and mind have had time to recover from the stress of the accident. Learn more about car accident injuries that don't show up right away.

So, whenever you feel symptoms of injury after a car accident, get medical care. Don't assume that your injuries will clear up on their own or that the pain is just a passing thing. Do the safe thing and get checked out.

Why Is Getting Medical Attention After an Accident So Important?

Besides the obvious need to prioritize your health and safety, there are two main reasons why it's important that you get proper medical care and follow through with your treatment after a car accident:

  • Your doctor is in the best position to determine how seriously you are injured, and to prescribe the best treatment for you—to help you recover more quickly, and to make you as comfortable as possible while you are recovering.
  • Records of your doctor appointments are the best way to document your injuries, as well as the course and duration of your treatment. This verification is essential if you later make a car accident injury claim. Medical treatment and medical bills are a large component of damages in a personal injury case.

If your doctor diagnoses an injury and begins a course of treatment, continue the course of treatment until your doctor releases you from it. That includes following up with referrals to specialists, attending any diagnostic examinations, filling any prescriptions, and performing any recommended at-home rehabilitation.

Lack of (or Delay In) Medical Treatment Can Hurt Your Car Accident Claim

If you've been in a car accident—especially if it was obviously someone else's fault—you may be wondering, "Why should my medical treatment be a legal issue? Why is it the insurance company's business when or how often I go to the doctor or the hospital?"

Insurance adjusters feel that the more time that passes between the car accident and the initial treatment, the likelier it is that the claimant or plaintiff could be faking or at least exaggerating the extent of their injuries, in order to "milk" more out of the claim.

Insurance companies also know that, if you go directly from the car accident scene to the hospital, then at least nothing else could have happened immediately after the car accident to explain your injuries. If you have a car accident on Tuesday, but your medical records show that you didn't receive any medical treatment until Saturday, you might have hurt yourself fixing the roof or working out on Wednesday, Thursday, or Friday. Maybe you couldn't afford to miss work for a medical appointment. But the best course of action is to leave no cracks for the insurance company to pry open. If you feel even the slightest pain or discomfort after a car accident, go to the doctor and get yourself checked out.

Why You Should Keep Medical Bills and Records Related to Your Car Accident

If you're being treated for injuries stemming from a car accident, ask your doctor or other health care provider for copies of your medical records and bills. Read them over carefully, paying attention to the description of your car accident, your medical history, and anything else:

  • Did the doctor get it right in describing the accident, or did they misunderstand the facts?
  • Is any summary of the accident accurate; for example, does it say that your car was struck on the passenger's side, when actually the impact was on the driver's side, as it says in the police report?
  • Do your medical records accurately state your symptoms?
  • Does your doctor have your medical history right, especially when it comes to pre-existing conditions? If you make an injury claim, the insurance company will look for anything (such as a pre-existing condition) they can point to as the "real" cause of your current symptoms. So, make sure your medical history is accurate.

Any discrepancies, inconsistencies, or incomplete information need to be identified and corrected, since insurance adjusters and defense lawyers who are on the other driver's side will use these perceived problems to try to prove that the accident didn't happen the way you say it did, or to challenge the extent (or the cause) of your injuries.

Next Steps After a Car Accident

Your medical records and bills are just part of the picture if you're thinking about your options after a car accident. You'll also need to:

Learn more about what to do after a car accident.

Getting Help With a Car Accident Claim

It's crucial to get medical treatment and take the other actions we discussed above after a car accident, but these are often just your first steps on the path to resolution of a car accident claim, especially if someone else was clearly at fault for the crash.

In most states, filing an insurance claim with the at-fault driver's car insurance company is one option. If you're comfortable doing so, you can file the claim on your own and get the settlement process started. Learn more about getting a car insurance claim started after an accident, and get tips on settling a car accident claim.

But if the insurance company isn't coming to the table with a fair offer (and especially if your car accident injuries are serious) it might make sense to turn everything over to an experienced lawyer.

Your lawyer will work towards a fair resolution of your car accident claim, which often means reaching a settlement agreement out of court. But if filing a car accident lawsuit looks necessary in order to get the best result, there's no substitute for a lawyer's experience and expertise at that stage.

Learn more about how a lawyer can help with your car accident claim.

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