When you are injured as a result of someone else’s negligence, your first priority should be recovering as quickly as possible. We recommend you to seek medical attention as soon as possible following your injury and then as often as needed in order to heal.
If you decide to file a personal injury claim, your treating doctor will be the most significant witness in proving your medical damages. It is critical to get medical treatment from a trained medical professional who is interested in your health and successful rehabilitation and who is prepared to advocate on your behalf to the insurance company or a jury that your injuries were caused by the traumatic event in question.
Most people worry that the medical treatment they require for an injury may be extensive and expensive, and perhaps that long-term medical care may also be necessary. Worrying about the cost and inconvenience of going for needed medical treatment will only prolong your successful recovery and rehabilitation, and could compound your problems with unnecessary stress and anxiety.
Insurance companies and large corporations will try every trick in the book to deny you were injured, claim it was not their fault, claim it was your fault, that you are exaggerating your claimed injuries, that you suffered only a short-term injury, that you have prior medical conditions or wear and tear on your body to explain your pain complaints, and/or that any assertions you have suffered a long-term injury have not been proved. Delay in going for treatment after an accident is also an argument the other side will use in an attempt to de-value your personal injury claim.
It is crucial to have open and honest communication with your doctor. Be prepared to give a complete and thorough medical history about yourself, to explain how you got hurt in the traumatic event, and how you felt afterwards. Your doctor needs to know exactly how you were functioning both physically and emotionally before the traumatic event occurred. If you had some physical limitations or aches and pains prior to the event, be honest about them, but then compare for your doctor how the trauma changed you. Be very specific about what hurts, how it hurts, when it hurts, and if anything makes it better or worse. Simply saying you ‘hurt all over’ does not provide the information your doctor needs to help you medically or in your personal injury claim.
As you go through your treatment, be detailed about what is helping you feel better, and what may be making you feel worse. The expectation is that as your treatment progresses, your symptoms will improve. If you are not improving, ask your doctor why not. Do not be satisfied with the ‘it just takes time’ response. Ask your doctor to be specific about what is wrong, what will be necessary to get you better, and how long it will take to get you feeling better.
Make sure your doctor and other medical providers (like physical therapists) are making detailed notes of your complaints and about your progress or lack of progress. Write down questions ahead of time so you don’t forget to ask something until after your appointment is over.
Asking the right questions of your doctor is important not only for your recovery from your injuries, but also to document the essential elements of proving your personal injury claim either to an insurance company evaluating your claim, or a jury who may decide your case if it goes to trial.
Although this may seem obvious after you’ve been in an accident, it’s essential that the cause of your injuries be documented in your medical records. The details of how you were injured is called your history of injury and your medical records need to document in detail what happened in your accident and how you were injured.
Your diagnosis is a list of your injuries and medical conditions caused by your accident. Your prognosis is your doctor’s educated guess about the probable final outcome of your injuries and recovery. Your doctor may not have a good idea of your prognosis until your medical treatment is completed and you reach maximum medical improvement (as good as you are going to get). If your doctor is unable to answer these questions, you may need to see a specialist or seek a second opinion.
The most important thing to focus on after your accident is recovering as fully as you can. Once your medical treatment is done, ask your doctor if you will likely need future medical treatment and how much it is likely to cost. The cost of future medical treatment is an element of damage you can recover in your personal injury claim, but your doctor must provide his or her opinion about the likelihood of future treatment including surgeries, physical therapy, medication, office visits, etc., and the anticipated cost.
You are entitled to recover lost wages if you are unable to return to work for a period of time because your injuries but your doctor must explain in the medical records how long you need to be off work to recover from your injuries. Once you return to work, if you are unable to return to your regular job duties, your doctor must outline any work restrictions, and if these work restrictions are temporary or permanent. If you are completely unable to return to your previous job duties because of your injuries, you may be entitled to damages equal to the reduction of your earning capacity but your doctor must explain why you are unable to do so.
You can recover damages for your physical and mental pain and suffering now and in the future caused by your injuries. Since pain is subjective, it is essential to detail your pain complaints to your doctor. Use examples of things you could physically do at work, home, and play before the trauma, and how you are now limited.
Explain the severity and duration of your pain, the types of activities you are no longer able to do or enjoy doing because of your pain, and whether you are taking pain medications. Do you suffer from depression or anxiety since your accident? Has your mood changed since the accident? Be as detailed as you can so your doctor has a clear picture of how your accident has impacted your life and is likely to impact it in the future.
We hope that you make a complete recovery, but if you and your doctor believe you have a permanent injury, the doctor needs to put that opinion in writing. Does your doctor recommend temporary or permanent physical limitations on your activities at work, home, or play? Do you have a measurable functional impairment?
Even after you are released from care, check in with the doctor periodically if you are not 100% better. If you never return to the doctor before your case is settled or won at trial, the other side will always argue that you did not need to return to the doctor because you were better. Hopefully, the doctor will recommend some new or additional treatment that may help you feel better in addition to documenting that your suffering is ongoing.