At several points during a personal injury case (and usually in the very beginning), our clients are prone to asking, “How much might my case by worth?” Almost invariably, our response is, “How much are your medical bills, and what do your medical records say?”
This is because medical records and medical bills provide the foundation for determining the valuation of most personal injury cases. This is true from the perspective of the plaintiff’s personal injury attorney, as well as for the insurance company claims adjusters who evaluate injury claims. Generally speaking, the greater the medical bills (and the greater the volume of medical records), the greater the attention the claim will receive from the insurance company that is evaluating the claim.
Although personal injury victims have little control over the specific medical records or medical bills generated by their health care providers, there are some things that injury victims can do to improve the quality and accuracy of the information contained in their physicians’ medical chart.
First, accident victims should be completely open and forthright with information about prior accidents, injuries, or medical issues. Many times physicians will brush over these issues during an examination, and will later write down that the patient “denied” any prior injuries. This can cause many problems in a personal injury case, including the possible dismissal of the plaintiff’s case altogether – with prejudice. If the case is not dismissed, this “denial” can be used to try to damage the credibility of the personal injury victim. Of course, the personal injury victim can rightly claim that he never “denied” a prior injury, many insurance companies and juries believe that physicians are virtually infallible and will take the word of the doctor’s record over the injured person’s story. They will rhetorically ask, “Who is likely to be lying about this? This hard-working doctor with no stake in this case, or this supposedly injured person trying to get money?”
Second, accident victims need to make sure that they are being treated by physicians who understand the importance of accurate, complete, and comprehensive records in this process. Many physicians are intolerant of lawyers and lawsuits. They would prefer to be left out of the process altogether. As a result, they don’t keep very descriptive or complete medical charts. While the chart may be good enough for the doctor to be able to recall the patient at the next visit, it may not be complete enough for an insurance adjuster to understand what the patient’s presenting complaints were, what treatment was rendered, or what the injury victim’s medical prognosis is. Therefore, choice of physician is an important factor in the valuation of a personal injury case.
Third, personal injury victims need to be wise consumers of medical services. If it seems that the doctor’s office is providing needless or excess treatments, an injury victim has every right to ask for an explanation. Most accident victims have limited funds to devote to medical care, so it is important for an accident victim to make sure each dollar is being spent responsibly. Obviously, nobody expects an accident victim to substitute their expertise for that of a physician; however no quality doctor’s office should balk at answering these kinds of questions.
If you have any questions about the role of medical records and bills in the personal injury or accident claims process, please call Attorney Kim Cullen at 407-644-4444.