The following is an excerpt from Gary Martin Hays' most best-selling book The Authority on Personal Injury Claims in Georgia: The Definitive Guide for Injured Victims & Their Lawyers in Car Accident Cases.
Gary provides a peek behind the curtain at how the Law Offices of Gary Martin Hays & Associates successfully represents clients with personal injury claims in the state of Georgia.
If you have questions regarding a personal injury claim, contact us at 770-934-8000.
Chapter 7 - Medical Treatment for Injuries
If you have been injured in a car wreck, it is important that you get prompt medical care for your injuries.
This should be done regardless of whether or not you plan on ever presenting any kind of claim against the at-fault party's insurance company.
You had your health before the wreck and you need to get that back as best you can. This should be your ultimate goal. The following guidelines should help you as you treat for your injuries:
Describe All of Your Injuries
It is extremely important that you tell the nurse or doctor about all of your injuries, even if something only hurts a little. Three reasons for full disclosure:
- The doctor will not be able to treat an injury he/she does not know about so be as descriptive as possible. Some injuries are not visible - such as strains and sprains or internal injuries. Do not rely on them to discover your injuries based upon their examination. This is also not a time to play it tough. If you're hurt, tell the doctor.
- If you do not tell the doctor about an injury because you think it is minor and will get better, but a few weeks later the condition worsens, you are going to have some potential problems. It may be more difficult for the doctor to treat your condition because of the delay. From a legal standpoint, the insurance company may not consider this "injury" as being related to the car wreck because there was no previous mention of it to your doctor. The insurer could allege you hurt yourself somewhere else at some other time and are now trying to wrongly place responsibility on them.
- If you describe all of your injuries, the medical professionals will document them in their records. These medical records are an integral part of the demand package which will be sent to the insurance adjuster when it is time to settle your claim. These records will memorialize all of your injuries, tests, prescriptions, and treatments that were provided to you by the healthcare professional.
Do Not Delay Seeking Medical Treatment
If you are hurt, go to the doctor! It is important for you to be examined by a medical professional if you are injured in a wreck - even if you do not plan on pursuing a personal injury claim.
People often will leave the scene of a wreck feeling they are not injured - just a little sore. But when they wake up the next day, the pain, the tightness or soreness in the muscles hit them like a ton of bricks. If this happens to you, I encourage you to seek immediate medical attention.
Medical Treatment and Your Personal Injury Claim
It is important to keep in mind that major components of your personal injury claim are the nature of your injuries and the medical treatment you receive for these injuries!
If you do not tell the nurse or doctor about an injury, chances are it will never make it into your medical records. If you later try and allege these injuries are related, you will have no proof or documentation to support your claims and the insurance company will not consider it when evaluating your case.
When treating with any health care professional for the injuries sustained in the wreck, you should:
- Tell each one about ALL of your injuries.
- Keep ALL medical appointments. If you do not go, the insurance company will penalize you when assigning a settlement value to your claim. The adjuster knows that judges and juries will not be understanding of missed appointments - UNLESS there is a legitimate reason for you not going.
- Comply with the doctor's treatment recommendations. If they tell you to go to therapy 3 times a week, then go 3 times a week. If you are prescribed home exercises, then do them. First, you should do this as this will more than likely help you get better. Second, if you only go 2 times a week when 3 is recommended, the insurance adjuster will minimize your injuries. They will claim that if you were "really" hurt, you would have been compliant.
- If you cannot make an appointment, please call the doctor's office before the appointment out of courtesy to them. It is also important to let them know if you can't make it because you are hurting too bad or you can not drive because the medication impairs your ability to operate a motor vehicle. This will allow the doctor's office to document the reason why you could not make it. The doctor will also not note in your medical records that you were a "no-show."
- Let each doctor know about other medical facilities or practitioners you have seen for your injuries, as well as what tests, treatments, and prescriptions have been given to you.
- It is also important for you to go to the doctor for a final "discharge" visit. This will allow the doctor to summarize all of your injuries, the treatment provided to you, and the likelihood that you will need future treatment, therapy, prescriptions, or possibly even surgery for those problems. The doctor can also render an opinion as to whether or not your injuries are permanent.
Document Your Injuries
We have all heard the expression "A picture is worth a thousand words." You can describe to someone all day long the "horrific gash" on your forehead because of the crash. There is another expression we need to keep in mind though - "The easiest pain to bear is someone else's."
Nothing illustrates your injury more than a photograph - showing the injury at its worse. Words can go in one ear and out the other but a picture of the injury can make an indelible mark on a jury.
Whenever possible and when necessary, we have professional photographs taken of our clients' injuries. A properly trained evidence photographer can help memorialize the visible injuries.
They will use tools like a ruler in the picture to give the viewer a frame of reference - to understand the length of the scar or the size of the metal brace protruding out of the skin with screws and plates to keep the fractured bone in place so it can heal properly. It is worth the time, effort and money.
Is the Injury Causally Related to the Wreck?
If you are involved in a wreck, you may sustain injuries that you might not be able to directly link to the wreck. For example, you start having pain in your wrists a week or two after the accident.
You may not realize that you have a carpal tunnel injury because you were gripping the steering wheel tightly at the instant of impact. Or your knee may start hurting a few days after the wreck. You do not remember it hitting anything inside the car so you are not sure if it is related.
Make sure you tell your doctor about the injury and give some thought as to why it may be hurting. With your knee, did you brace your leg against the floorboard immediately prior to the crash? It is important for you to know that not all injuries are caused by direct contact with something in your vehicle.
Does the Injury Prevent You From Working?
If you are not able to work because of your injuries, and you want to seek reimbursement for your lost wages in your personal injury claim, it is crucial to get a doctor's disability slip taking you out of work.
Juries can understand a person with a back injury not being able to perform their job as a landscaper. They may not understand how a fractured ankle could keep a telephone receptionist from working, however.
Make sure the doctor knows the type of work you do and whether or not you feel you can do the job with the restrictions he places on you because of your injuries.
Make sure the disability slip is for a specific period of time. If it is set to expire when you see the doctor at the next follow-up appointment and you are still disabled, get another disability slip for a new time period.
If you must turn these in to your employer, make a copy of the slip for your attorney and yourself. These disability slips will help document your lost wage claim in your demand package.
One caveat: even though your doctor tells you that you should be disabled from work, it does not necessarily mean your employer agrees or has to abide by it. If you do not show up for work because of injuries sustained in a wreck, some states will allow your employer to fire you - even with a valid disability from a medical doctor.
You should ask yourself these questions: how important is this job to you? Can you "tough it out" and do your job without re-injuring yourself or aggravating your injuries? Do your injuries present a safety risk to you - or other workers? When your health improves and you are capable of returning to gainful employment, will it be easy for you to find a new job if you are fired from your current one?
These are questions to which only you know the answer.
Do Not Go to the Doctor to "Run Up" Your Medical Bills
Please do not think that the greater the amount of your medical bills, the larger your settlement with the insurance company will be!
The insurance company - as well as judges and juries - will only consider medical bills that are reasonable and necessary. Do not go to the doctor just to go to the doctor to increase your medical bills. Go to the doctor because you are hurting and need treatment.
If a chiropractor or doctor tells you that you need to come in so many times a week for a number of weeks so you can get to a certain dollar threshold for your medical bills, please let your attorney know this! We want the doctor to worry about you recovering for your injuries. We take care of getting the recovery on the personal injury settlement.
It is up to you to make sure you understand the treatment plan that the doctor is prescribing for you. If you have questions, ask him or her. If tests are recommended, ask the doctor to describe the test for you and find out the reason for the test.
We are always available to discuss our client's treatment plan with them and to address their concerns about the kind of care and attention they are being provided by their doctor.
What Happens If You Are Not Getting Better?
Assume you have been compliant with all of your doctor's instructions. You have faithfully gone to physical therapy, you've done the recommended home exercises, and you took the prescription medications as indicated. But you still hurt and you do not feel you are getting better. What next?
We encourage you to schedule an appointment with your doctor to discuss your medical care and treatment plan. Some additional testing may be necessary. The doctor may need to refer you out to a specialist to address your specific medical problems.
Here are two things that do not need to happen:
- You just assume the problems are not going to get better and you just deal with it.
- You should not allow the doctor to tell you "I don't know what else to do" if you feel he or she has not done everything possible. If this happens, you may want to seriously consider going for a second opinion.
One word of warning: You are the one that is hurting. You have every right to try and find the best possible medical care for your injuries, even if it means going to more than one doctor.
But we highly recommend you don't jump from one doctor to the next unless you have been fully compliant with the doctors and completed the treatment plans they have recommended. Failure to follow their prescriptions could be considered "doctor shopping" by the insurance company!
Keep Track of ALL Doctors and Medical Bills
We encourage our clients to keep a list of all the medical doctors that they see for treatment for their injuries.
Whenever they go to a doctor's office for the first time, we ask them to grab a business card from that doctor and immediately send it to us. This way we can keep track of all of the doctors, as well as the office location that the client attended.
When our client completes their medical treatment, we will have a complete and accurate list of all of their doctors so we can order all of their medical records from these providers.
Please keep ALL medical bills and invoices you receive from these facilities - whether they are handed to you at the doctor's office or mailed to you. In addition, keep ALL instructions the doctor or nurse gives you each visit. This could include any discharge instructions, home exercise charts, or referrals to other physicians.
ALL of this material is extremely important to your claim - especially in the presentation of a demand package to the insurance company.
The information we are sharing with you in this book is general in nature. It is not designed to provide specific legal advice regarding you and your potential claim.
The information in this book may or may not apply to your specific case. Nothing can replace a consultation with an experienced attorney to discuss the facts about your particular claim.
If you would like to have our law firm conduct a free, no-obligation, completely confidential consultation of your personal injury claim, please do not hesitate to call us at 770-934-8000.