The Independent Medical Examination (IME) in a Personal Injury Claim

In many personal injury cases, the defendant (usually through an insurer) wants the injured claimant to attend an independent medical examination.

When you file a personal injury lawsuit, you're asking a court to award you "damages"—in other words, monetary compensation for your physical injuries and related losses—stemming from an accident that the defendant (the person you're suing) allegedly caused. And as part of this process, the defendant (or their insurance company) usually has the right to request an independent medical examination (sometimes referred to as an "IME"). So, how does an IME work, do you have to attend one, and what can you do to protect yourself (and your personal injury case)? Read on for the answers.

What is an Independent Medical Examination?

After any kind of accident, the first medical treatment is often performed by a doctor of the injured person's own choosing (maybe even their own physician). Naturally, when a personal injury claim is filed over the accident, the defendant (or their insurance company) will want a second opinion and may request an IME. In general, an IME is performed by a licensed doctor of medicine (MD) or doctor of osteopathic medicine (OD), usually one with medical knowledge or training in the specific area relating to the case, and with experience in the area of IMEs.

It's called an "independent" examination, but most personal injury attorneys will tell you that in practice, the IME is anything but independent. Oftentimes, the insurance company will have a pre-existing relationship with the doctor performing the IME, and it's pretty common for the IME report (more on this later) to be skewed against the injured person.

Typically, when it comes to the timing and procedure of an IME:

  • the defendant or insurance company must give the injured person reasonable notice of the time, manner, location, and scope of the examination
  • unless there is good cause for further exams, only one IME is usually permitted
  • the defendant or insurance company must pay for the IME, and
  • the independent medical examiner must be available to be cross-examined by the plaintiff's personal injury attorney at a deposition or trial.

You (Probably) Need to Attend the Independent Medical Examination

When an injured person does not wish to submit to an IME, he or she may be compelled to do so in certain situations. Generally, a court can compel you to attend an independent medical examination when you've filed a lawsuit in which you're claiming to have suffered physical injuries (that means any time you file a personal injury lawsuit). So, upon a court motion by the defendant or on the court's own initiative, the plaintiff in a personal injury case can be compelled to submit to the IME, or risk having the lawsuit dismissed.

The logic here is that the defendant or insurance company has a right to make sure that your harm is as severe as you claim, and to get a complete sense of the exact scope of your injuries.

The Independent Medical Examination Report

A report should be completed after the IME, and all parties in the personal injury lawsuit have a right to review it. There should be an introductory section with basic descriptive data, including injury dates and a summary of the doctor's conclusions. A history of the claim should be reported, including a thorough review of all medical records. The report should also describe the initial conversation between the medical examiner and the injured person. Finally, the findings of the physical examination should be documented with detail, and a diagnosis/prognosis should be given.

Preparing for the IME

Preparation is important with an IME—especially when dealing with an IME relating to an insurance claim. You should be punctual and bring any relevant medical records with you. Your attorney will thoroughly prepare you for the examination. If you are not represented by an attorney and are submitting to an IME requested by an insurance company, it is advisable to keep responses very concise (only answer "yes" or "no" if possible). However, do not be difficult or unresponsive. Answer questions truthfully and be sure to get all your health complications on the record when it comes to the accident and your resulting injuries.

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