Personal injury lawsuits sometimes involve disputes over large sums of money for compensating the injured party. In such cases, the other person’s insurance company may require proof that the plaintiff was actually mentally or physically injured and is therefore entitled to monetary damages to compensate for the injury. The person may then be required by the court to submit to a medical examination for the specific purpose of validating the alleged injuries at the request of the other party.
This type of medical examination is often called an "Independent Medical Exam" or IME. It is also known as an "adverse" or "compulsory" medical examination. The purpose of an IME is not to provide the injured party with medical treatment, but rather to diagnose and confirm any injuries that may be connected to the lawsuit.
Usually, the party requesting an IME is required to pay for the examination, or arrange for it to be covered by their insurance. They are generally entitled to choose the physician who will conduct the IME, though the judge may order a specific doctor if it is necessary under the circumstances. Many states have laws that allow insurance companies to compel a plaintiff to submit to an IME. Also, some state laws allow the judge to order one.
If you have filed a personal injury claim to recover for physical injuries and are requested to submit to an IME, you should comply with the requests. In many cases, submitting to the exam can increase your chances of prevailing in the lawsuit. Failure to comply can often result in court sanctions or a dismissal of the suit.
When Can an IME Be Ordered?
An independent medical exam can be ordered in the following situations:
- The plaintiff’s injuries or physical condition are in dispute
- The other insurance company needs to confirm that the plaintiff was actually injured
- There are issues as to whether the defendant actually caused the injuries
- The injured party was not yet examined by any physician
- The insurance policy contains language that specifically addresses independent medical examinations
In addition, IMEs can be ordered in other cases besides personal injury cases. For example, in a guardianship claim, the court may order the future guardian to submit to a medical exam in order to determine whether they are fit to perform the duties of a child’s guardian.
Independent medical examinations may not be ordered when:
- The insurance policy does not contain any language regarding IMEs, as most states do not allow an insurance company to compel an IME if the policy does not address it, unless an exception applies.
- The plaintiff is filing suit to recover for damages to property, such as their car, and not for physical injuries, thereby not putting their physical state into question.
- The examination would subject the plaintiff to undue burden/hardships, i.e., the examination is scheduled to be held at a location far away from the plaintiff’s residence.
- The plaintiff has filed suit after they are already completely healed because, in this situation, it would be difficult to determine the extent of the injury or its connection to the accident.
What If I Received a Request to Take an Independent Medical Examination?
If you have been requested by the other party or ordered by the court to submit to an IME, you should comply with the request or order to the fullest extent possible. You should not have any doubts or reservations regarding the examination because you have nothing to lose by submitting to the examination if you have been honest in your claim. In fact, the exam may provide additional evidence that will support your claim for damages.
Be sure to take notes before, during, and after the examination so that you have a record of the exam. Include names, dates, locations, and the time frame of the examination. If you have questions for the physician examining you, do not hesitate to make inquiries. Most laws allow the injured party’s attorney to attend the IME so that the attorney can observe the outcome and ensure that the injured party’s rights are protected during the exam.
You should do your best to cooperate with the examining physician. This includes being honest with the doctor and providing as much detail as you can when questioned. However, it is just as important that you avoid making statements or admissions that relate to your own liability. Finally, be aware that you may be requested to submit to more than one examination.
Do I Need a Lawyer?
If you have been injured in an accident and are anticipating a dispute with an insurance company, you should contact a personal injury attorney immediately. The laws governing IMEs can vary from state to state, and an experienced attorney can guide you in preparing for the exam. They will demystify the entire process for you so that you understand how the process works and how it will relate to your individual injury claim.