After practicing personal injury law for over 20 years, you start to see patterns with respect to how people handle, or should I say mishandle, their medical care after an auto accident. Here are 10 mistakes people make when dealing with medical care after a car accident:
1) They don't get medical attention immediately after a car accident - If you are hurt, don't wait around. Go get examined by a doctor as soon as possible. Some people say, "Oh, I was waiting for the insurance company to tell me what to do." There is no such thing. Insurance companies aren't interested in your medical care. Frankly, they don't want you seeking medical care. They want to keep their money to themselves. It is up to you to get medical care. The insurance company is not going to arrange for it. Insurance adjusters and juries often believe that if you don't get medical care right away, then you must not be hurt that bad.
2) They hide their previous health conditions from doctors (and their lawyer) - If doctors ask you about your past medical history, you have to be honest with them. Hiding your medical history doesn't help anyone. First, doctors want to help you, and knowing your medical history may assist them in doing that. Also, failure to disclose your complete medical history will only come back to haunt you later on when the insurance company is reviewing your past medical history. I can't tell you how many clients tell me, "Oh, I never had back pain before!" Then, we review their past medical records and lo and behold, they complained of chronic back pain 6 months prior to the accident! In short, be complete and honest with your doctors (and your lawyer).
3) Discussing legal issues or lawsuits with their medical provider - The doctor's job is to treat your injuries, not to give you legal advice. Also, some doctors are reluctant to treat you if they learn you might be entertaining legal action in the future. Of course, you can tell them about the car accident and your resultant injuries, but you shouldn't get into deep legal discussions and strategy sessions with your doctor.
4) Their injuries are not properly documented - Juries and insurance companies aren't going to believe you are injured simply because you say you are injured. If something isn't in your medical records, it never happened as far as most insurance companies are concerned. Make sure your medical providers properly document EVERY injury and challenge you have from the accident. I tell clients to imagine the insurance adjuster sitting on their shoulder, writing down everything they say. The insurance adjuster will only consider what's in the records.
5) They skip medical appointments and physical therapy appointments - Again, if you skip appointments, insurance companies and juries will assume you're not injured - otherwise, you wouldn't miss your appointments. You may have a perfectly wonderful excuse, but now you have to explain things. Time spent explaining missed appointments isn't great for your case.
6) Forgetting to inform the doctor about how the injuries are affecting your work - You want to make sure your medical records reflect how, if at all, your injuries are affecting your work. Recently, I had a client who wanted a much bigger settlement than what I thought was reasonable. He told me about how much pain he had at work and all the difficulties he was having at work due to his injuries. Here's the problem - none of his medical records said anything about those difficulties. They were silent on the issue. It's hard to prove something was "significant" if it's not in any of the records.
7) Not taking the medications prescribed - I know that some medications can make you feel groggy or make your stomach upset. However, if you are having side effects, tell the doctor and perhaps he/she can prescribe something different. Simply not taking your medication as prescribed can be used against you - some will argue that you weren't getting better because you didn't follow the doctor's advice. Of course, do what's best for you, as there are always exceptions.
8) You stop treatment too soon - Most insurance adjusters and juries believe that if you stop medical treatment, you must be completely healed. We all know there are hundreds of reasons why you might stop treating, but your reasoning won't necessarily be adopted by the insurance adjuster. Just realize that if you stop treatment too soon, you might be hurting your case - especially if you have residual injuries.
9) Ignoring possible psychological injuries - Most injuries are physical. However, sometimes your injuries can be psychological. If you are having a particularly difficult time coping after a severe car accident, you might be experiencing tremendous anxiety or worse. Ask your doctor if seeing a therapist would be a good idea - at least for an evaluation or assessment.
10) Not keeping a journal - You should take the time to document how your injuries are affecting you. That way, when you visit the doctor's office, you will be able to tell the doctor how you are doing and what progress (or lack thereof) you are making. Those notes can also help your attorney when presenting your case to the insurance company.
In most cases, after an auto accident, parties exchange information with one another at the scene of the accident. In some cases, this is done between the parties without any police involvement, especially if there has been no injury and the property damage is minor. If someone was injured, the police may come to the scene to investigate. In that case, police officers often separate the parties from one another so they can get independent accounts of what happened.
The police officers usually will collect insurance information from each party. In many cases, that insurance information won't be shared with the parties at the scene. Instead, the officers will recommend you obtain the police report which will have all the information on it. The problem is that some police reports takes weeks, sometimes months, to be prepared and made available to the parties. This can be problematic when you are trying to get your car fixed or make a claim, and you effectively have no idea who to call because you don't have the insurance information.
Next, just because you obtain the insurance information (either at the scene or via the police report) doesn't mean the other party actually had insurance. According to the Insurance Research Council, about 15% of all California drivers are driving without insurance. Truth be told, I personally believe the number is higher but that's simply based on my unscientific anecdotal experience. In any case, don't assume the other party had insurance because there is a chance they did not.
Why don't people have insurance? Well, perhaps it costs too much and they've decided to forego the expense. In other words, they are taking the chance of driving without insurance. For some people, the cost of auto insurance is simply a financial burden. So they roll the dice and play the odds. Also, some folks don't have insurance because they forgot to pay their premium on time. In the meantime, they later find out their insurance policy had been canceled due to nonpayment of premium.
Also, perhaps the driver was engaged in fraud or deception with their company. I once had a case once where the responsible driver and his passenger decided to switch seats before the police arrived. Apparently, he wasn't supposed to be driving and he was concerned the police would catch him in the act. Well, since they changed seats and gave the insurance company false information, the insurance company later decided NOT to cover them for the accident since they had lied to the company about who was driving.
In some cases, coverage may not be available if the person was engaged in a commercial activity. For example, I had a case once where the responsible party was delivering a pizza for a local pizza restaurant. He had the pizzeria sign on his own personal vehicle. The insurance company decided not to cover him because he was engaged in a commercial activity (delivering pizzas), an commercial activities were prohibited by his policy. His insurance policy only covered him for personal use of his vehicle - not commercial use. Sometimes, insurance coverage is pulled if they find out the person driving wasn't supposed to be driving that particular car - he or she was an excluded driver on the policy.
The moral of the story is to make sure you have plenty of "uninsured motorist" coverage on your own auto policy because there is a decent chance the person who caused the accident may not have any insurance for one reason or another. Just because you are presented with "proof of insurance" at the scene of the accident doesn't actually mean the person had insurance. It's certainly a good sign, but there's no guarantee.
by Robert Mansour
Robert Mansour is a personal injury lawyer serving Santa Clarita, Valencia,