The Independent Medical Examination (IME) In a Car Accident Case

If you file a car insurance claim or car accident lawsuit, you may need to attend an "independent medical examination" (IME). Here's what to expect.

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

If you're making a car insurance claim or filing a car accident lawsuit, you may be required to submit to an examination by a physician chosen by the opposing insurance company and its lawyer. The court and the insurance company might call this an "independent medical examination" (or "IME") but in reality it's anything but "independent." It's the other side's chance to:

  • try to minimize the severity of your car accident injuries, and
  • maybe even claim that those injuries weren't actually caused by the crash.

What Is an "Independent Medical Examination" In a Car Accident Case?

Understand what's really going on when the insurance adjuster asks you to attend an independent medical examination as part of your car accident case. The at-fault driver's car insurance company gets one chance to examine you and build their case against the nature and severity of your car accident injuries. If they send you to someone who doesn't see things from their perspective, they will have wasted their only chance to create an expert witness against you.

So, the practice for car insurance companies and defendants is to hire the same doctors over and over to do these examinations and—guess what?—the doctors usually tell the defense (the ones that hired and paid them) something that they want to hear. Then the doctor will appear at trial as a witness against you. Or, at the least, the doctor's report will be used as a weapon against you in settlement negotiations.

After examining you and reviewing your medical records, the defense doctor will probably conclude something along the lines of:

  • you weren't actually injured in your car accident
  • you weren't injured as seriously as your physician thinks, and/or
  • something other than your car accident caused your current condition (including pre-existing injuries and the normal aging process)

Get the details on how an IME works in a personal injury case.

Tips for Handling the IME In Your Car Accident Case

The independent medical examination can be a stressful part of the car accident claim process, but there are ways to level the playing ground and take some measure of control over this phase of things.

Don't Go to the Car Accident Independent Medical Exam Alone

If you can afford it, hire a nurse or other medical professional to accompany you to the examination. This person will be able to judge the legitimacy and fairness of the exam, and can act as a witness in court if the examining doctor doesn't accurately report the results of your exam, or doesn't tell "the whole story."

If you can't afford to take a medical professional with you, it's a good idea to take your spouse, your partner, or a friend with you. If there's a dispute in court about what happened at the IME, your companion can testify to what they observed.

Bring a Written Statement About Your Car Accident Injuries and Treatment

The exam will usually begin with the physician "taking a history" by asking:

  • how your injury happened, and
  • what treatment you've received.

Bring to the examination a written statement that you (and your lawyer, if you have one) have prepared, and give it to the physician in response to these questions. That way, there can be no mistake about what you told the doctor, because it's in writing.

The IME doctor will be looking for signs that you're exaggerating your symptoms. In the IME report, the doctor may comment about such things as how well you were able to get around the room or get on and off the examining table. The point here is this: Be aware that you're under observation at all times during the IME.

Take Notes To Aid Your Lawyer's Cross-Examination of the IME Doctor

As soon as the examination is complete, after you leave the doctor's office, make written notes of what happened and give them to your lawyer, if you have one. Include all relevant times, such as:

  • when you arrived
  • how long you waited before you were seen by the doctor, and
  • how long you were actually with the doctor.

Make note also of what was said and done, and anything else you can recall about the examination.

Your lawyer will be able to use your notes to cross-examine the doctor in a car accident deposition or in court. Your lawyer's goal here will be to show how little time was spent with you during the IME, especially compared to the time your treating doctor(s) spent with seeing, treating, and following up with you over the course of your recovery from your car accident injuries.

Talk to a Car Accident Lawyer About Your IME

If your car insurance claim or lawsuit has proceeded to the point where the insurance adjuster is talking about an independent medical examination, hopefully you've already got a car accident lawyer on your side. If not, now's the time to consider hiring one. Learn more about when you might need a lawyer for a car accident case and get in-depth information on working with a personal injury lawyer.

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