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The “Independent” Medical Exam: Tips on How to Handle the Defense’s IME

The “Independent” Medical Exam: Tips on How to Handle the Defense’s IME

In most personal injury lawsuits, the defense has the right to subject you, the plaintiff, to what is called an “independent medical examination or IME. In theory, the examination is supposed to be conducted by an unbiased healthcare professional who can answer certain legal questions that might have arisen in the course of your case. For example, are you really suffering from an injury? Or what caused your injury? You might know the answer to these questions, but the IME is meant to establish those answers as truths for everyone.

In reality, though, the healthcare professional who performs an IME is often contracted by the defense counsel and, therefore, might not be as unbiased as they should be. Quite often, the contracted healthcare professional will create a medical examination report that is strikingly similar to basically every report they have written for other plaintiff-related IMEs. In other words, the healthcare professional has answered the legal questions before they even performed the exam.

For instance, most IME reports conclude the plaintiff is suffering from a pre-existing condition, that the accident didn’t actually cause the injuries the plaintiff has mentioned, and that the plaintiff is exaggerating symptoms. How can this be true of every case? Logically, it cannot be, and so the legitimacy of an IME should always be questioned by the plaintiff’s attorney.

Although IMEs are notorious among plaintiff attorneys, most courts allow the defense to coordinate, schedule, and subject you to an IME. Being told that you must undergo an IME can be stressful and worrisome, but if you understand the purpose of the IME and how to act during it, you should be fine, especially if you have hired an experienced personal injury lawyer to guide you.

Top Five Rules to Follow During an IME

When an IME has been planned for you, follow these top five rules:

  1. Review your medical history: Meet with your lawyer to go over your medical history and the timeline of your treatment following your injury. In all likelihood, it’s been a year or two since your accident, so a refresher is a good idea. Don’t worry about memorizing dates or medical terms, though. Remember your history as best as you can, but know that you aren’t expected to become a medical expert.
  2. Request the IME doctor’s intake forms: For some reason, IME doctors’ intake forms are more like interrogatories than a health history questionnaire or something that you would find at a typical doctor’s office. Before you go to the appointment, request a copy of the intake forms. Bring that copy to your lawyer’s office to fill them out in advance. If the doctor’s office does not want to give you a copy of those forms, then tell your lawyer that the healthcare provider is being problematic.
  3. Be pleasant: You are probably a naturally pleasant person, but it warrants having its own rule. Much of the IME is an evaluation of you as a person, even though it is propped up like an objective medical exam. Be pleasant, polite, and courteous with the staff and the IME doctor. Do not get angry or impatient with them, even if they are not being exactly cooperative or friendly themselves. On the other hand, know that the IME doctor is not your friend. They will smile, be kind, and act like they believe you, but remember that they are hired and paid by the defense. Whatever goes in the doctor’s report will invariably say what the defense wants them to say.
  4. Don’t exaggerate: Don’t limp if you don’t have to. Don’t cry out in agony during the examination unless it truly comes out. Don’t bring a walker to the exam if you don’t use one outside of the exam. Many of the tests the IME doctor employs are designed to detect exaggeration or “malingering.” If you show signs of exaggeration, the defense will highlight that for the jurors, who will probably lose their trust in you. Believe it or not, some of these IME doctors or their staff will watch you walk in from the parking lot, and they’ll watch you as you walk in and out of the clinic. If you’re hopping and skipping in the parking lot and crawling on all fours in the clinic, it’ll be in the IME report, and your case will suffer for it.
  5. Always be truthful: This rule is the most important one and relates to the rule against exaggerating. If you’re asked about the level of your pain, don’t say 6 if it should probably be a 4 on the pain scale. If the IME doctor asks you questions about the accident or your health history, don’t embellish and don’t hide anything. Give the best answer you can to all questions. However, you do not need a sharp, concise answer for everything. Saying that you do not remember a detail is fine if you really don’t remember. You should not guess, but you can make it clear that you are not positive about the information you are providing. For example, saying something like, “I do not remember exactly,” before continuing should help protect you from the defense trying to trap you in a lie unfairly.

Believe It or Not, You Are On Trial

Although you are the injured party and the victim in your case, you will feel like you’re the one on trial during the IME and throughout most of the litigation. The truth is that you are on trial. The defense is constantly evaluating you. The IME doctor is investigating you and your injuries thoroughly, hoping to find minor inconsistencies or mistakes in the medical records to make you look like you’re lying or mistaken about your condition. The jury will also be eyeing you throughout the trial as they work hard to make the right decision. Your evaluation by all of these parties is simply part of the process

Through all phases of litigation, including the IME, try to be pleasant, patient, and honest. Apart from being the best way to show these people who you are, it’s the right way to live.

Have questions about how to manage a personal injury claim or what to do during an independent medical examination in Wyoming? Bailey Stock Harmon Cottam Lopez LLP has offices in Cheyenne and Afton. We can help you from the start of your case to its conclusion, even if it goes to trial. Call us at (307) 222-4932 to learn more.

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