If you were severely injured in a car accident, you have an incentive to comply with every instruction your doctors give you. Your life may depend on it.
Surprisingly, people with less severe but troubling car accident injuries are often less inclined to follow their doctors’ advice. They want to get on with their lives so they skip appointments. They don’t want to stretch or do other exercises recommended by physical therapists because they hurt too much.
Two things happen when accident victims ignore the recommendations made by healthcare providers. First, they delay their healing process and may even turn a curable condition into a lifelong disability. Second, they impair the settlement value of their personal injury claims.
Insurance adjusters are not inclined to believe anything an accident victim reports about the victim’s physical condition. They view injury victims as malingerers or scam artists, particularly when the injury involves soft tissues. Injuries to muscles, tendons, and ligaments, as well as nerve injuries, do not show up on X-rays. If an insurance adjuster can’t see an injury on an X-ray, the adjuster will suspect that the injury is not real.
Soft tissue injuries can be painful and long-lasting. Doctors diagnose them by listening to a patient’s complaints and by observing the patient to determine whether the patient’s behavior is consistent with the reported injury. A doctor will usually confirm that the injury exists if a patient appears to be honest and does not behave in a way that is inconsistent with the reported injury.
When a doctor asks a patient with a soft tissue injury to return at a future date for a follow-up evaluation, the doctor will probably (and the insurance adjuster will certainly) believe that the injury has healed if the patient does not keep that appointment. In many cases, the injury victim is coping with the injury but doesn’t want to take time out of a busy day to see the doctor again. When that happens, the injury victim harms his or her ability to prove that the injury continues to be troubling.
If you absolutely cannot make a doctor’s appointment, reschedule it. If you skip it without rescheduling, it looks like you decided you did not need further treatment because you were no longer in pain. Trying to convince an insurance adjuster (or a jury) that you had a prolonged injury when you did not continue to see your doctor about the injury can be very difficult. All too often, injury victims harm the settlement value of their injury claims by putting other priorities ahead of caring for their injuries.
You cannot get the treatment you need unless your doctor understands exactly what is wrong. During your first doctor’s visit, explain every symptom that you felt from the moment the accident happened until you saw your doctor. Even if a twinge in your neck does not seem significant, it might be the sign of a neck injury that will not fully develop for several more days. If you don’t tell your doctor about it, your doctor cannot begin to monitor and treat your symptoms.
Make sure you talk about problems that relate to your injuries. If pain is causing a sleep disturbance, or if you have had difficulty concentrating after the accident, tell your doctor. There may be something your doctor can do to help.
Giving a complete report of symptoms and problems to your doctor not only helps you receive the treatment you need, it helps you prepare the record you need to maximize the settlement value of your injury claim. Your doctor will make a record of the symptoms and problems that you report. The insurance adjuster who handles your case is better able to understand your injuries if they are documented in medical records. Just as importantly, if you have a physical problem that you neglected to mention to your doctor, the insurance adjuster won’t believe that the problem is real.
The only way to make sure that your medical records are complete is to give a complete account of your injuries to your treating physician. Do that every time you see your doctor. If you stop complaining about a problem because you’re tired of dealing with it, the insurance adjuster (and possibly even your doctor) will assume that the problem has resolved. Trying to convince the adjuster that the problem still exists when you stopped talking to your doctor about it is an uphill battle.
Soft tissue injuries often require rehabilitation before they heal. If you are referred to physical therapy, you will probably be given a series of exercises to perform on a regular basis. The therapist will then test your range of motion during each appointment to see whether you are improving.
Exercises can be painful and time consuming. For that reason, patients often stop attending physical therapy sessions. If you don’t do your exercises and see your physical therapist, your healing might be delayed. In fact, you might never fully heal if you don’t follow your physical therapist’s instructions.
When patients stop going to physical therapy, doctors and insurance adjusters assume that they have fully healed and need no further therapy. It is very difficult to prove that you have ongoing pain if you stopped attending physical therapy sessions. Even if physical therapy sessions are time consuming and painful, don’t discontinue physical therapy until you are discharged. That’s important if you want to maximize your personal injury settlement.