As you can imagine, I see a lot of people who have been in Denver car accidents and who may or may not have been to the hospital or to their doctor afterward. For the most part, no one who sees a doctor after an accident regrets it. However, I have helped more than a few car accident victims who refused care because they thought they were fine or they were worried about doctor bills, and they genuinely regretted their choice.
That visit provides a record of your care for any future personal injury case that you might pursue.
Why You Must Seek Care After a Car Accident
First of all, if you feel any pain at all after a car accident, or if you know that your body withstood a serious impact, you should always seek medical attention. And, if you were the victim in the accident, you should take an ambulance to the ER or drive yourself there if you and your car are able. Pain after a car accident is nearly always serious enough to require medical care, whether it’s physical therapy for a few weeks or more intensive treatments.
However, even if you don’t feel bad enough to go to an emergency room, you should go see your primary care physician immediately after an accident. Not only can your doctor check you out thoroughly and confirm your health (or identify potential injuries), but that visit provides a record of your care for any future personal injury case that you might pursue.
Now, I hear you saying, “We live in a litigious society and I am not going to participate in that process!” But what if you have a pinched disc in your back and you don’t discover it for several months. Then the doctor bills start piling up and you are stuck with big deductibles and co-pays. In the event of such difficulties, you may find it necessary to pursue a personal injury case simply to recoup your losses for your short- and long-term care.
If you wait for three weeks or three months before seeing a doctor, facing lingering pain, and the doctor discovers a bulging disc at that time, you may have done tremendous damage to your future ability to file a claim in a personal injury case. The insurance company will look at your record of treatment and say, “This person didn’t seek treatment right away. How do we know she didn’t slip in the shower and now she’s trying to blame it on the accident?”
“Gap in treatment”
The technical term they’ll use is “gap in treatment” and it can destroy your chance to recover funds that you have paid for your care, or that you will have to pay in the future.
Now, of course, all of the advice above is especially prudent for people who were victims in a car accident. However, if you caused the car accident, you should still see a doctor, because you need to take care of yourself. But know that you will be unable to pursue a claim from the insurance companies involved, because you were at fault in the accident.
An Example: Seeing a Doctor After an Accident
Let’s say we have two drivers: Driver A and Driver B. Both drivers get rear-ended, meaning the accidents weren’t their fault, and both of them sustain whiplash.
Driver A says she has neck pain and takes an ambulance to the emergency room to get checked out. The doctor says she doesn’t have any broken bones, but gives her pain medication and tells her to go see her primary care physician. Driver A takes a day off of work and makes an appointment with her primary care doctor, who prescribes six weeks of physical therapy. After treatment, she feels much better. Her bills total approximately $9,000.
Driver B says, “I’m sore but I’m fine.” Then two weeks later, he notices that his neck is sore. He goes to the doctor, gets an X-ray and the doctor prescribes 6 weeks of physical therapy. His bills total $2,000.
Now, both parties have the same injuries and pain, but in a personal injury case, Driver A’s claim is worth $15,000 to $20,000. Driver B’s case is only worth $3,000 to $5,000. (Not to mention that Driver A received the care she needed right away so she felt better sooner.)
Why? Because both drivers can claim “pain and suffering” for their injuries and, because of Driver A’s record of treatment from the day of the accident, her claim for pain and suffering is worth more. Insurance companies use medical bills as proof of pain and suffering and juries use medical bills to assess awards for pain and suffering, as well.
I am not suggesting that you fake pain or fake an injury. I have no tolerance for people who lie to make a buck. That is unethical and fraudulent. However, I strongly encourage anyone who has been in an accident to seek medical treatment on the very day they are in a car accident. It is simply prudent, for both your healthcare needs and for any future claim that you might need to make against the at-fault driver.