Will I Need to Attend an Independent Medical Examination as Part of My Car Accident Claim?

If you’re asking for compensation for injuries as a part of your car accident claim, your personal doctor’s opinion may not be enough to prove your case.

Getting hurt in a car accident can be trying enough. To add insult to injury, the car insurance company may require you to see an independent doctor to confirm your injuries. That shouldn’t be so bad, right? You know the accident injured you, and you have your own medical records to prove it. This new doctor will just confirm what you’ve been saying all along and will provide even more evidence to bolster your claim for injuries, right? If only it were that straightforward. Read on to learn how the IME works in a car accident case, and why you'll probably have to attend one if the insurer requests it.

What Is an IME?

"IME" is short for "independent medical examination," but this name can be misleading, because these proceedings are not usually "independent" at all. In theory, the IME is a medical examination where an unbiased (independent) doctor examines you with an eye toward assessing the scope and extent of your car accident injuries. In practice, these exams can be quite different.

Why Do IMEs Have Such a Bad Reputation?

The reality of an IME is that it’s an opportunity for a car insurance company to dispute your claimed injuries. The IME doctor is chosen by the insurer and will usually have a history of examining injury claimants on behalf of insurance companies. For a variety of reasons, and at the very least, the doctor will very likely produce medical findings that tilt in favor of the insurer. In the worst of scenarios, the IME doctor's findings will punch holes in your claim.

After the examination, the IME doctor will probably reach one of three conclusions:

  1. The car accident did not cause your injuries.
  2. You are not injured.
  3. The car accident caused your injuries, but your injuries are not as severe as you say they are.

IMEs don't always turn out this way, but they do more often than not. Remember, the purpose of the IME is for the insurance company to find a reason to deny your claim outright, or at least offer you less in the way of settlement. For these reasons, claimants are generally advised to avoid the IME if they can, and if they can’t, to be careful not to say the wrong thing or do anything that might jeopardize their claim.

When Is an IME Required?

In the car accident context, an IME is usually required in two situations. The first is a personal injury lawsuit where you are the plaintiff and you're claiming a car accident caused your injuries. Here, the purpose of the IME is for the defendant to gather information for hos or her expert medical witness. This witness will probably testify at trial that your injuries don’t exist, aren’t as bad as you claim, or weren’t caused by the accident. Depending on the situation, you and your attorney might be able to successfully argue that the IME isn’t necessary, and there’s a chance you can avoid the IME in litigation.

The second situation where you likely must submit to an IME is when you file a claim under your no-fault car insurance (sometimes referred to as personal injury protection, or PIP) coverage. With this kind of coverage, your policy will probably include a provision requiring you to submit to an IME as a part of a claim. If you refuse the examination, your car insurance company may deny the claim on the basis that you have failed to cooperate with the company's investigation into your injuries.

If your car insurance company asks you to attend an IME as part of your car insurance claim, but you are not in a no-fault state or aren’t filing the claim under your car insurance policy’s PIP coverage, then you probably aren’t required to submit to the exam. If you’re not sure or somehow think that agreeing to an IME might improve your chances of settling your car insurance claim, you need to consult with an attorney.

What Should I Do if I Must Attend an IME?

If you must go to an IME:

  • Bring someone with you, such as a friend, spouse or family member. They can serve as a witness to confirm your story of what happened at the exam, if a dispute arises. If it’s financially feasible, bringing a nurse or other medical professional is best, because they can provide an expert medical opinion as part of their testimony on what occurred at the exam.
  • Be completely honest and cooperative and never exaggerate any pain or discomfort. The IME doctor will be looking for instances of exaggerated injuries or inconsistencies between what you say and do and what the IME doctor observes.
  • Understand that you are likely under observation starting from the moment you pull into the parking lot. The IME doctor will take into consideration everything about you, such as how well you walk into the office, how easily you can get on the examination table, comply with instructions, move around the room, etc.
  • Ask for a copy of any document you sign during the IME.
  • Once you’re back home, take careful notes of exactly what happened, including how long the actual examination took, the tests that were done, what the doctor told you, etc. This will be useful information if your claim ends up in court.
Read our article Tips on the IME to learn how to protect your legal rights during and after an IME.

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