An independent medical exam (“IME”) is a necessary step for most personal injury plaintiffs. Unfortunately, it also is a major source of anxiety for most personal injury plaintiffs, often because they just don’t know what to expect. In this post, our St. Johns County personal injury attorneys hope to ease your anxiety by answering common questions about the IME and providing an overview of the examination process.
What is an IME?
An IME is part of “discovery,” which is the fact-finding process the attorneys go through after a lawsuit is filed. Once you file a lawsuit seeking compensation for personal injuries, the defendant (the person you have sued) can ask you to submit to an independent medical exam. However, as explained below, the term “independent” is a misnomer, as the doctor is anything but independent.
Who Performs the Exam?
An IME is more accurately described as a “defense medical exam” or an “insurance company medical exam” because the defense attorney and/or the insurance adjuster get to choose the doctor who will perform the exam, and they will always choose a physician who will skew the results in the defendant’s favor. In most cases, insurance companies have ongoing professional relationships with these so-called independent doctors and refer them considerable business in any given year. (It is not unheard of for some of these doctors to make hundreds of thousands of dollars each year, simply by evaluating personal injury plaintiffs and providing expert testimony for insurance companies at personal injury trials.) As you can imagine, these doctors – some of whom are retired or semi-retired and have not performed an actual surgery or other medical procedure in twenty years or more – are careful not to “bite the hand that feeds them.”
Remember that the insurance company is in the business of making money. Accordingly, its goal is to pay out as little as possible in satisfaction of a personal injury claim. The insurance company knows that if your case proceeds to trial, the IME doctor can testify as an expert witness (or, at the very least, the doctor’s report can be introduced into evidence), and that this evidence could potentially result in a decreased damages verdict at trial.
What Will Happen at the Exam?
While the procedure may vary somewhat from doctor to doctor, most independent medical examinations will proceed something like this:
At the beginning of the IME, the doctor will inform you that the examination is not for purposes of establishing a doctor-patient relationship. In other words, the doctor is not trying to help you. Rather, the purpose of the examination is to evaluate you for litigation purposes and to prepare a report for the insurance adjuster and/or the defense attorney. (Your attorney also will receive a copy of this report.) The doctor will then conduct his examination which, depending on the nature of your injuries, might include manipulating injured body parts, measuring your range of motion, and taking a medical history.
Tips for Handling the IME
Even though this is not a traditional doctor-patient appointment, you still should treat the doctor politely and with respect.
Try to be specific and detailed in describing the problems, injuries, and symptoms you are experiencing. Again, the purpose of the examination is for the IME doctor to prepare a report for the insurance company, which will likely be used against you at trial or during settlement negotiations. If you leave out certain injuries or symptoms that you claim are directly related to the accident and caused by the defendant’s negligence, those injuries and symptoms will be omitted from the IME report, which could potentially have a negative impact on the value of your case.
This is not the time to put on a brave face and minimize your pain or other symptoms. Likewise, do not exaggerate the impact of your condition. If you do, it surely will come back to damage your credibility. In short, be honest.
Finally, do not make small talk or discuss the specifics of your case or your conversations with your lawyer. Remember the purpose of the exam.
If you have questions about an upcoming IME, or about the IME process generally, please contact our experienced St. Johns County personal injury attorneys. You can reach us by phone or email. We will respond promptly.