Personal injury suits may have large financial ramifications and defendants certainly will pursue all available information. The discovery process entitles parties to access reasonably obtainable and relevant material. This may include records containing medical, financial, or employment information. Sometimes the physical or mental health of a party is questioned in a case and the opposing counsel may request (by motion) that the court order an independent medical examination (IME). This examination is conducted by an independent physician who will compile into one report their assessments, the results of testing, and diagnosis.
Independent vs Compulsory
The term independent is defined as something not required or contingent on something else or crafting one's own opinion, which is unbound or uncommitted to that of others. Something that is compulsory is an action that is mandated, coerced, or enforced. In the context of a personal injury case, the defense may have a doctor conduct an independent medical examination (IME) on the injury victim. The use of “independent” in referring to this situation runs somewhat contrary to the meaning. Here, the defense has obtained a court order, which is compulsory, that the party undergoes the exam. These medical examinations, therefore, are often considered as “adverse”.
Purpose of an Independent Medical Examination
If a party ordered to undergo an IME does not submit to the exam, he or she may face court action, like having a lawsuit dismissed. In a personal injury action, an IME is not intended to deliver any medical care, but instead to diagnose or confirm injuries relating to the lawsuit. The results of the exam can affirm the plaintiff's claims and be beneficial. An IME, on the other hand, may have “adverse” consequences for the injured party, since the examination may raise questions and challenges if the examiner's findings differ from those asserted in the plaintiff's claim.
The court may allow the injured party's attorney to be present for the examination to protect the patient's rights.
Federal Rules of Civil Procedure (FRCP)
The FRCP contains Rule 35--Physical & Mental Examinations that explains when there is controversy regarding the physical or mental health of a party, the court may order an exam by a qualified and licensed professional. Many personal injury cases do not have any challenge or disagreement regarding the plaintiff's medical condition(s). The motion must be justified by “good cause” and a subsequent court order must detail the time, location, the examiner, and the type and scope of the exam. In order to establish good cause, several elements must be confirmed.
Justifying “Good Cause” for an IME
A court will consider the following in making a determination to order an IME:
- There is a dispute regarding the nature or extent of the plaintiff's injuries.
- The opposing insurance company may need to verify the existence of the injury, e.g., based on an insurance company policy provision requirement.
- Questions exist regarding whether the defendant was the cause of injury.
- The injured party has or has not had a medical examination by a physician.
Examples of Insufficient Grounds for an IME Order
In the majority of states, an insurer-required IME will be ordered if mandatory within the terms of the insurance policy. In cases where the harm was solely related to property damage, there is insufficient need for such examinations. A motion for an IME may be denied if the examination would place an “undue burden or hardship” on the injured party. If the plaintiff has fully recovered (healed) from the injury, ordering an IME may be deemed unnecessary. Typically only one court ordered IME will be allowed unless unique circumstances create good cause to do so. Generally, the party to be examined may not object to a specific medical examiner unless compelling causes justify it.
Obligations of the Party Ordering an IME
The party that moved for the IME is responsible to generate a report in writing that details the conclusions, diagnosis, and any ordered test results in a time-frame that is reasonable. If this report is not produced, the court may simply order the IME evidence to be disregarded. Typically, the moving party will be required to cover the costs of an IME and must reimburse for travel mileage.
Don't be confused about an independent or compulsory medical examination because they are one and the same thing. And don't worry if one is ordered in your case. You attorney will guide you through the process. In the end, if the facts were right in the first place, an independent (compulsory) medical examination cold help rather than hurt your case.