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Why insurance company IME exams are no laughing matter

March 26, 2011 by Steven M. Gursten

Michigan injury lawyer explains the “independent” medical exam, and how to protect yourself when an insurance doctor tells you there’s nothing wrong

Kudos to Pat Stoneking. This video he made is a pretty good explanation of what happens for most serious car accident and truck accident victims who are sent for “independent” medical examinations – either by their own No-Fault insurance company, or by the insurance company that’s insuring the vehicle that caused the accident.

Although the video makes light of IME exams, these exams are very serious, and the consequences for people can sometimes be devastating.

In many ways, independent medical examinations represent the very worst of our civil justice system. Insurance companies find these “doctors” for only one reason: to mitigate what they have to pay. As the video shows, these “doctors” – and I have put the word in quotes because they have clearly violated their own Hippocratic Oath – will perform hundreds of exams, and make hundreds of thousands of dollars every year essentially finding nothing wrong with people. Or as in the video, latching on like a tapeworm to any “pre-existing” injury that they can shift blame to for causing the current condition.

There are hardly any ethical rules that govern these IME exams, and as an injury lawyer, I’ve personally encountered several insurance doctors who quite deliberately and intentionally have lied under oath.

IMEs are very upsetting for accident victims, because most of these doctors are quite rude, and treat people in a very condescending way. Even when my own clients have called me after these examinations and said they had a positive impression of the doctor, they are almost always shocked when they actually receive the report. These reports, usually many pages long even though the underlying examinations are only 15 to 30 minutes, often accuse car accident victims of lying, faking or exaggerating injuries.

Remember, there is nothing “independent” about IME exams. This insurance doctor is supposed to be a partisan advocate of the insurance companies’ positions. Often, the doctor will talk to the insurance adjuster or the defense lawyer before writing his report, to make sure it helps out the insurance company position.

Do you have to go to an insurance – independent medical exam?

Again, when presenting a personal injury claim in Michigan, the other side will almost always have the right to have their own doctor do a “second opinion” type examination. This “independent” medical examination can be used by auto insurance companies as part of the Michigan No-Fault process to determine whether an insurance company will have to continue to pay for No-Fault benefits, including medical treatment, wage loss, replacement services, attendant care and mileage.

The authority for these exams is statutory and part of the No-Fault Act. Although there are some ways around them in very limited situations, most people will have to go.

These IME doctors are selected by your insurance company and/or the insurance company’s attorney. The purpose is to limit and mitigate damages and to defend the case. These insurance companies have a relatively small group of doctors that they use, and tend to use the same ones over and over again.

Here are some blogs our injury lawyers have written about notorious IMEs:

Help, my auto insurance company is sending me to Dr. John Baker for an IME!

I just received notice for an IME with Dr. Trachtman, now what?

Dr. Mary Kneiser’s IME lawsuit

Keep in mind that the IME doctor is not acting as a doctor. As the video points out, an IME doctor cannot be sued for malpractice or professional negligence if he or she is wrong. The doctor is an expert witness for the defendant auto insurance company. They’re only hired only their ability to destroy an injured auto accident victim’s case. They are professional witnesses and frankly, they can be difficult to control on cross-exam for most injury lawyers, especially lawyers unfamiliar with auto accident lawsuits.

Talk to your injury lawyer immediately when you receive an examination notice

It is important to let your injury lawyer know immediately if you are being sent for an IME. Many times, the lawyer can demand additional protections for you if there is notice. Also, many lawyers will attend the IME exam, or demand it be videotaped and recorded. IME doctors often make comments to my clients that are completely inappropriate, or deliberately ignore parts of the case that would hurt the insurance company position.

Please remember, there is no doctor-patient relationship with an insurance medical examiner. There is no confidentiality. There is no liability on the IME doctors if they say things about your injury that causes you future harm, such as if they say you no longer need medical care or you can return to work and the insurance company unfairly stops your No-Fault benefits. IME are an obscene and sad part of our civil justice system, and they have been responsible for destroying many lives.

Do you have an IME horror story? Tell me about your experience and I will post it below.

Steve Gursten is recognized as one of the nation’s top injury lawyers handling serious auto accident lawsuits, and No-Fault litigation. He routinely writes about insurance company abuse and the No-Fault laws in Michigan, and is available for comment.

Related information:

Michigan auto accident victim reaches out on IME abuse

Dealing with Michigan auto insurance companies

Michigan injury attorney videos: Your No-Fault rights

Michigan Auto Law is the largest law firm exclusively handling car accident, truck accident and motorcycle accident cases throughout the entire state. We have offices in Farmington Hills, Detroit, Ann Arbor, Grand Rapids and Sterling Heights to better serve you. Call (800) 777-0028 for a free consultation with one of our personal injury lawyers.

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