During the course of litigation:
- The plaintiff testifies as to what injuries were caused by the accident and submits the medical records of his doctors to substantiate those injuries.
- The plaintiff’s medical records are examined by both sides.
The defendants have a right to have the plaintiff examined by their own doctor, which is called an Independent Medical Examination or IME. That doctor typically receives a complete copy of the plaintiff’s medical records which, along with the results of the examination, are used to formulate an opinion about the extent of the injuries the plaintiff is claiming. The defendant’s doctor records all findings into a report called an IME Report.
Unfortunately, there is nothing “independent” about IMEs. After all, it is not the court who hired the defense doctor to perform the examination; it is the defendants themselves. The same defense that at trial will try to convince the jury to believe their doctor’s testimony over that of the plaintiff’s treating doctor.
At trial, jurors are faced with a perplexing question: Which doctor’s testimony should we believe – the plaintiff or defendant’s?
In order to call the credibility of the defendant’s doctor into question, a plaintiff’s attorney uses a multi-faceted approach.
- Did the doctor for the defense review ALL of the available medical records?
Insurance companies – or the attorneys defending the lawsuit – make a practice of doling out piecemeal versions of relevant medical records to their witnesses even though the plaintiff provided the complete record. Sometimes important records such as MRI reports or other test reports are missing from the file sent to the defendant’s expert. Many expert opinions are therefore based upon incomplete data. It is the plaintiff’s lawyer’s responsibility to show that if the opinion is based upon an incomplete set of records, it’s probably an incomplete opinion.
- Is the doctor testifying for the defense biased?
Whereas the injured party’s treating doctor is someone who makes his living treating and caring for patients on a daily basis, the defendant’s doctors make their living examining and testifying against injured plaintiffs. They frequently make their living in the “medi-legal” industry and have typically abandoned full-time practice of medicine. The majority of their work consists solely of evaluating the records of plaintiffs, examining them briefly and testifying in court. They get paid by insurance companies, and if they want to protect this lucrative line of work, it has been alleged that they will say the “right things” in their reports and on the stand.
When faced with two doctors of opposing opinions on a medical matter, the jury must consider the credibility of each side. Should they believe a treating doctor, or a doctor that performs a one-time medical examination of the plaintiff on behalf of the defense? Who’s in the better position to give an unbiased assessment of what injuries the client really suffered? The doctor who has treated this person 20 or 30 times over the last several years, or the doctor who saw them only once for 10 minutes and now comes to court claiming the injuries do not exist – or if they do, they were not caused by the accident in question, and instead, preexisted before the accident occurred?
With so many variables in a personal injury case, one thing is clear: Getting the help of an experienced attorney, who is well-versed in exposing the bias of defense doctors, is the best thing you can do to protect your case.