The Independent Medical Exam (IME) in Car Accident Cases

You may need to attend a medical examination by a physician chosen by the other side.

Reviewed by , J.D.

As part of your 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 defense calls this an Independent Medical Examination, or "IME." Don't believe that the examination is "independent." It isn't. To be accurate, it should be called a Defense Medical Exam (DME). Or, at least, if you want to call it an IME, the "I" should stand for "Insurance," not "Independent." In any case, read on to learn more about the IME.

What's Really Going On?

Understand what is going on. The defense gets one chance to have you examined and to obtain a medical witness against you. If they send you to someone who does not see things from the defense perspective, they will have wasted their only chance to create an expert witness against you.

Therefore, the practice is for the defense to hire the same doctors over and over to do these examinations and -- guess what? -- the doctors usually tell the defense (the ones that hire them and pay 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 that:

  • you were not injured in your accident
  • you were not injured as seriously as your physician thinks, and/or
  • something other than your accident caused your injuries and symptoms.

The most common other causes that IME examiners find are earlier accidents, later accidents, prior injuries and the normal process of aging. Or, they often will say that while they don't know exactly what caused an injury they know that it was not your car accident.

Even though the IME is not independent, you must cooperate in the process. You must go to the examination and cooperate in being examined. Although it may not be a fair examination, you should participate as if it will be. Be yourself. Be honest. Be accurate. If you have a legitimate claim, you have nothing to hide.

Tips for Handling Your IME

Here are some tips that may help.

  • If you can afford it, hire a nurse or other medical professional to accompany you to the examination. Your nurse will be able to judge the legitimacy and fairness of the testing and will be able to be 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 is a good idea to take your spouse, or a friend, with you to observe. If there is a dispute in court about what happened at the IME, your spouse or friend can testify to what they observed.
  • The exam will usually begin with the physician "taking a history" by asking how your injury was caused and what treatment you have received. One good technique is to take a written statement that you (and your lawyer, if you have one) have prepared to the examination and give it to the physician if she asks you how you were injured. That way, there can be no mistake about what you told the doctor, because it is in writing.
  • The IME doctor will be looking for signs that you are 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 is that you should be aware that you are under observation at all times during the IME.
  • 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 the time that you arrived, the time that you were seen by the doctor, how long you were with the doctor, what was said and done, and the like. Your lawyer will be able to use this information to cross-examine the doctor in court, showing how little time was spent with you, especially compared to the time that your treating doctor(s) spent with you.
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