Get Prompt Medical Attention After an Accident

At the first hint of injury after an accident, it's crucial to protect your health and your legal rights.

By , J.D. · Villanova University School of Law

There are probably as many types of accidents as there are types of personal injury claims. But especially when your injury could be the result of someone else's negligent or intentional conduct, it's absolutely critical to get prompt medical attention as soon as possible.

Protect Your Health

The importance of seeing a doctor after an accident is (painfully) obvious when your injuries are serious. But when you don't think you've been injured, or when your injuries seems minor, it can be tempting to not have a medical professional take a look. But seemingly insignificant symptoms can indicate a serious injury, and whatever is wrong is likely to get worse if left treated. Bottom line: Get prompt medical attention after an accident if you feel even the slightest level of discomfort or pain.

Medical Care is Necessary to Confirm Your Injuries

If you end up filing an injury-related insurance claim or personal injury lawsuit, you'll need evidence to back up your assertions. Not only will the other side (the person at fault for the accident, and/or their insurer or lawyer) want more than your word as to the nature and extent of your injuries, but until you see a medical professional, you don't have a complete picture of your harm.

Perhaps your shoulder hurts when you lift your arm. But is it a strain or sprain, or is there a tear in your rotator cuff? And even if you somehow knew the answer without seeing a doctor, you'd still need to see a doctor to get medical documentation and determine what the proper course of treatment would be. The documentation is particularly important because without it, it's very difficult to obtain compensation for your personal injuries.

Medical Attention May Be Required Under Your Insurance Coverage

If you were injured in a car accident, keep in mind that some states require that you see a doctor before certain kinds of car insurance coverage can take effect. Specifically, some no-fault car insurance states require individuals to see a qualified medical professional within a certain amount of time following the accident. In Florida, for example, drivers have 14 days to get medical care for accident injuries if they want those medical costs reimbursed by their personal injury protection (PIP) coverage.

Medical Treatment Can Help Establish Causation

The longer you wait to see a doctor after an accident, the easier it is for someone else (like the insurance adjuster) to argue that your injury wasn't caused by the accident.

Let's say you work as a delivery driver and are in perfect health. But one day, you get rear-ended by another driver on your way home from work. Your lower back is sore, but the pain isn't that bad, so you decide not to go see a doctor right away. More than a week later, the pain gets worse, which finally convinces you to get it checked out.

If you try to sue the driver that hit you, or ask an insurance company to pay your medical bills, either might argue that something you did at work caused your back injury. Perhaps they'll say you lifted something the wrong way. You know this isn't true, but by waiting more than a week to get medical treatment, you've given the other side ammunition to dispute whether they actually caused your injuries.

Waiting Can Make Your Injury Seem Less Severe

Forget the law for a second. Imagine someone comes to you and says they suffered a bad injury in a slip and fall. But they also admit they didn't see a doctor about it until three weeks after falling. Now think about a different person claiming the same thing, but they went to the emergency room just a few hours after they fell.

Who are you likely to believe has the more severe injury? Juries, judges, and insurance claims adjusters think the same way. By waiting to see a doctor, you are inviting questions about the seriousness of your injuries.

Waiting Can Reduce Your Settlement

Insurance claims adjusters like to settle claims as quickly as possible. It makes them look good for their bosses. Insurance supervisors love adjusters who can process claims quickly.

But another reason insurance companies want to settle claims quickly is because it usually means they pay out less money. It's a lot easier for you to accept your insurance company's personal injury settlement offer if you haven't seen the doctor yet.

Without knowing the full extent of your injuries or what the medical costs will be to treat them, a settlement check might seem more generous than it really is. An offer of $5,000 for your sore back may seem more than fair, until you get a diagnosis from your doctor saying that "minor" back pain you've had since the accident is a lumbar spine fracture that will require surgery and physical therapy. But once you accept a settlement, you can't go back and ask for more later.

Learn more about what to do after an accident, and get tips on finding the right personal injury lawyer for you and your case.

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