Independent Medical Exams: What You Need to Know

You were hurt in an accident and treated extensively for your injuries. As far as you are concerned, your treating doctors know it all. Surely, their opinions count most when it comes to determining the extent of your damages. All things considered, you think it’s somewhat ridiculous that your attorney expects you to comply with a notice to attend independent medical exams.

In the first place, you should understand the significance of an independent medical examination – also referred to as an IME. No doubt your treating medical providers know you best. However, when you bring a personal injury claim, you are asking the defendant’s insurance company to pay you money. Therefore, it’s not unusual or unexpected for injury victims to undergo evaluation by an “independent” doctor.

For a moment, you might chuckle at the notion that the physician selected by the insurance company will have an unbiased opinion. The appointment itself may be either too short – or feel too intrusive. The IME is not generally conducted until after you’ve been released from treatment – or received maximum medical benefit. The subsequent findings will be documented and used for negotiation purposes.

If you fail to show up for scheduled independent medical exams, it’s more than likely that the defendant’s attorney will file a motion in court compelling you to do so. Tennessee Rule of Civil Procedure 35.01 allows the court to order an IME whenever there is a legal claim involving a mental or physical condition.

Without question, it’s most often a bad idea to ignore a court order. If you’re wondering how it might hurt your case, you may be interested in a recent case decided by the Court of Appeals of Tennessee.

Sanctions for Failure to Attend Independent Medical Exams

In the matter of Prewitt v. Brown, Candes Prewitt sought to recover money related to injuries she suffered when she was involved in a car crash with Kamal Brown. The plaintiff represented herself, although the court’s decision notes that she is an attorney.

There are a number of issues raised in this case. Among them are the consequences that came as a result of Ms. Prewitt’s failure to comply with an order to appear for an IME appointment. Notably, the court order compelling her appearance came after defense counsel made several attempts to set up the examination.  At the same time, the court denied the plaintiff’s requests for a protective order regarding the application.

Despite the judge ordering Ms. Prewitt to undergo the IME, she never did so. Subsequently, Mr. Brown’s attorney filed a motion with the court and asked for dismissal of the complaint. The court agreed that Ms. Prewitt’s failure to attend the independent medical exam was in violation of the court order. However, it did not dismiss the complaint.

Instead, the judge decided to impose sanctions.-“prohibiting plaintiff from offering any testimony or evidence at trial regarding medical damages, medical bills, or medical records related to future pain and suffering, future loss of enjoyment of life and/or permanent impairment.”

Trial Ensues

Although many personal injury cases settle before trial, this one did not. At the conclusion of a two-day trial, Ms. Prewitt was awarded damages. However, the jury only came back with $500 – for past pain and suffering. Obviously, the imposed sanctions had some impact on the jury’s decision.

On appeal, some of the reasons that Ms. Prewitt failed to comply with the IME came to light. For one, it appears that the examining doctor expected the plaintiff to answer questions that had nothing to do with the automobile case. (For example, one inquiry asked if Ms. Prewitt had been sexually abused as a child.)

Nonetheless, the plaintiff did not complete any portion of the questionnaire or attend the court-ordered IME. On appeal, she stated that the defense failed to schedule the appointment. Ms. Prewitt felt the order was invalid as it was too broad and “unnecessary.” Nonetheless, the Court of Appeals determined that the trial court acted within its discretion to impose the ordered sanctions.

All in all, there is a lesson here for personal injury litigants. Instead of deciding that an IME may hurt your case or be unwarranted, it is critical to avoid sanctions such as those imposed on this plaintiff.

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