IMPORTANCE OF FOLLOWING-UP WITH MEDICAL TREATMENT AFTER A CAR ACCIDENT
If you have been involved in a car accident that was not your fault, then you need to get medical attention right away. It is unfortunately common that some people who are hurt delay getting evaluated by a medical professional. This creates a "gap in treatment." A gap in treatment gives the insurance company ammunition to attack your case, later on.
Getting a comprehensive medical examination after a DMV car accident is important for more reasons than simply documenting your injuries for your civil claim. Only a medical professional can diagnose you, and make sure that you don't have injuries that you are not even aware of. Certain conditions can affect you over time, and some of them get worse as time passes. If you have been in a car accident, always see a doctor and get checked out!
How not seeing a doctor can hurt your Car Accident Claim
If you have been involved in a car accident, and are going to pursue a civil claim, your claim is for your damages. Damages cover many different areas, but if you have not been injured, then your claim is for property damage only.
If you have been injured, then the burden of proof falls upon us to prove that you have been hurt, and to what extent you have been injured. The best way that we can prove that is through documented Medical Evidence - in other words, the medical records. If you don't see a doctor, there are no medical records that we can rely on to prove your case. It is not enough for us to simply allege that you got hurt!
You should always see a medical professional after an accident.
Warning! In no way, shape, or form are we suggesting that you should ever get medical care that you don't need! Quite the opposite. If you have been hurt, you should get evaluated. If the doctor prescribes treatment for you, and you feel that you need that treatment to get better, than you should absolutely comply with the doctor's recommendations and referrals. What you should not do is ever get treatment that you don't need, merely to pump up your case!
Waiting too long to see a doctor
If you have been in an accident, and you are experiencing pain, it is not uncommon for people that do not go to the hospital, to follow up with an urgent care center or a primary care doctor a day, maybe two days later. This is become some injuries, such as neck sprains and back pain can flare up and really be felt after the adrenaline and stress has begun to subside in your body. This passage of time is not normally a problem. Problems come when you wait too long to see a doctor.
With respect to car accident claims, this is why we tell people to get evaluated right away. If you wait 3 weeks to see a medical professional, then you have given the insurance company an argument that the medical conditions for which you are seeking treatment were not caused by the car accident, but by some intervening incident, such as falling at work, slipping on your own steps, or just being tired or hurt at home.
You have to remember that we have to prove two things:
We have to that the tortfeaser was negligent, and that that negligent caused your accident; and
That the injuries for which you sought treatment is causally linked to the accident.
Causally linked means caused by, not merely comes after.
Common treatment after a Car Cccident
After a Virginia car accident, there is a general path that medical treatment tends to follow, that we have seen. Of course, this is not true in every case. Every case is viewed specifically through the lens of each individual's injuries, and the treatment necessary for those injuries. But let us take an example of someone who has been rear-ended, and is claiming pain in the neck (the cervical spine).
Emergency room evaluation. Going to the emergency room is very common, and this allows specialty trained emergency physicians to comprehensively evaluate the injured person. Often there are diagnostic imaging tests done such as x-rays, and CT scans. Often, pain medication is prescribed.
Orthopedic evaluation. An orthopedist is a medical doctor who specifically works with the bones, joints, and muscles of a person's body. Because an orthopedist is a medical doctor, they can evaluate the whole person, and determine a course of treatment that will help the injured person get back to baseline. This is also usually the doctor who "follows," or oversees/directs the medical treatment.
Physical therapy. Orthopedists will often refer a person experiencing sprains or strains and other pain to rehabilitation therapy, often called physical therapy. This is sometimes done at the orthopedist's office, and sometimes at dedicated PT practices. Physical therapy sometimes begins at three times per week, and then decreases as the person gets better. The doctor will regularly evaluate you, and determine what needs to be done, and what modalities need to be changed, to help you get better.
MRIs. Magnetic resonance imaging tests are highly advanced diagnostic scans that are done at independent facilities, or hospitals. This testing will allow the orthopedist to determine any tears in muscles and other conditions that are not visible on x-rays, for example. Sometimes a doctor will order this right away, and other times will hold off to see if physical therapy is effective.
Corticosteroid injections or epidural steroid injections. Injections are sometimes done by orthopedists, and sometimes by pain management specialists, to help people on their road to recovery. Injections do not happen in most cases, but they are a viable option for certain patients. Sometimes one injection is sufficient, but we have seen some patients who require a course of three.
Chiropractic treatment. Chiropractors are doctors of chiropractic medicine, whose scope of practice is limited to the vertebrae of the spine. Some chiropractors are also able to perform physical therapy. They can be excellent parts of the treatment team, and can help people recover who have had injuries to their neck and back.
This overview is very general, and in no way is to suggest that any person who is involved in a Virginia car accident is going to have all of this treatment.
Medical treatment and the law
As we said, we have to prove that medical treatment which is being claimed is causally linked to the accident. This is done through introduction of the medical records into the claim. It is very important for you, as the patient, to tell the doctor how the injuries that you sustained as a result of the accident are impacting your life. Some people tend to be very private, and that can actually harm your case. There is an old maxim that "if it is not written down, it did not happen." For example, if you have difficulty sleeping, but have never told the doctor, and it is nowhere mentioned in the medical records, then the insurance companies are often going to discount your allegation. Always always tell the doctors and the physical therapists everything that is going on in your life that has been impacted by the injuries you sustained in the accident.
Additionally, depending on the course of the car accident claim, some doctors will have to testify if we have to go to trial. Doctors treat numerous patients, and will often rely on their medical records instead of their memories of what one patient said. Here again, if the doctor was not told that a symptom exists, he is not going to be able to testify to its existence. Always tell the doctor what's going on!
Going right to physical therapy
Because of the status of the law, patients do have the right to go right into a physical therapy clinic and begin receiving treatment. This is perfectly fine for regular patients. However, the average patient is not trying to assert a car accident claim. If you have been involved in a car accident or other personal injury matter, you should always make sure that your medical treatment is overseen by medical direction, meaning a medical doctor. A physical therapist is generally not competent to testify as to how your injuries were caused in a court of law, meaning on the witness stand. However, a medical doctor is. So while going straight to physical therapy is an option, if you have been involved in an accident, it may not be the wisest course of action.
Getting medical advice from your Car Accident Lawyer
At Blaszkow Legal, our attorneys have many impressive degrees on their walls. However, these are law degrees, not medical degrees. A personal injury attorney cannot give you advice on what treatment you should have, or may need. That is a question that you have to ask your medical doctor. Unless your attorney is also a certified physician, these are not questions that we can answer.
However, we can tell you how certain medical treatment will be viewed in the eyes of the law. We can explain to you the legal ramifications of getting treatment - or, alternately, of stopping treating. The decision is always yours. Just as a client always owns that client's case, only you can determine what medical treatment you can or should have. But, you want to make sure that you're making that decision based on medical advice, and legal advice.
Talk to an experienced Car Accident Lawyer
Blaszkow Legal has attorneys that practice in all three jurisdictions: Maryland, Virginia and Washington, DC. If you have been involved in a car accident anywhere in the DMV, then you need an experienced team who can fight to get you the compensation that you deserve, and help you avoid the pitfalls that have harmed other clients' cases.
After you have been involved in an accident, always do two important things:
One - get checked out by a medical doctor, at an emergency room, urgent care clinic or other facility.
Two - call Blaszkow Legal, PLLC for a free consultation so that you will get the best possible representation you can, to get you the compensation you are entitled to.