After being involved in a significant motor vehicle accident, it is critical to be examined by a doctor in a timely fashion, even if you feel that your injuries are minor or nonexistent. The following are some things to keep in mind if you have been injured in an accident.
- If your injury is apparent, take photos following the accident.
- You should always follow any treatment plan provided for you, failing to do so may hinder your ability to obtain compensation later. If you have a primary care doctor, he or she may be the individual that creates your treatment plan, which may involve medication and referrals for therapy. All related treatment will be part of your medical records; it is critical to maintaining documentation of all of it.
- Keep in mind that some injuries, such as many involving soft tissues, do not fully present themselves for a day or two which is why it is always to your benefit to go to a doctor immediately after the accident. This way you can establish a record at the hospital that can directly link the accident to the injury discovered a day or two later. Without this record, the defendant can try to claim you were injured by something else during the period between the accident and your pain.
Types of Medical Evidence
Depending on the nature of the injuries there may be many potential types of medical evidence to document as your treatment proceeds, such as:
- Emergency department intake reports
- Imaging documents for X-ray, CAT scan, MRI etc.
- Lab test results
- Diagnosis reports
- Prescription medication list
- Physical therapy assessment and progress notes
- A log of office visits and therapy sessions.
To track damages for pain and suffering you can maintain a log that outlines the limitations in your daily life that the injuries have caused. A similar type of system can be used to document time missed from work.
Colorado law has some provisions that include and exclude certain evidence that is potentially involved in vehicle accident cases and can influence awards for damages. Whether a plaintiff was wearing a seatbelt at the time of the crash is generally not admissible; however, failure to wear a seat belt may be admitted to reducing awards for damages designated for pain & suffering.
To note, Colorado does not have a law requiring that motorcyclists wear a helmet and a failure to have been wearing one at the time of an accident may not impact fault. Evidence relating to whether a motorist was under the influence of drugs or alcohol, however, is generally admissible.
In cases where there may be long-term impairment or disability, a medical expert may be retained to provide an assessment and explanation of these injuries. This would not be your primary care physician who has managed your plan of treatment and recovery, as a more independent expert is more appropriate for this role to avoid any suggestions of a conflict of interest.
Future losses of earnings may be best calculated by a forensic economist or accountant, as doing so may involve considerations including complex statistical data and employment forecasting. If ongoing future medical care and treatment costs are likely to continue, there will also be a need to quantify these damages. A mental health expert, such as a psychiatrist, may be employed to explain emotional strain and hardship that has existed since the accident.
Medical Information Releases
Over the last 25 years, there have been some significant legislative protections put in place regarding the confidentiality of medical records, such as the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) of 1996. When a claim is made with an insurer for injuries incurred in a vehicle accident, you will need to sign a waiver or authorization to allow them access to the related medical data from those providers. This will usually apply regardless of whether you have thoroughly documented all medical care to use as evidence for damages.
The insurer has a right to review all medical records that pertain specifically to the accident injuries. It is important to clarify that you are authorizing the release of only the medical records that are relevant to the claim—not signing an “open” release to all your historical medical records. Always have your injury attorney review these and other critical documents prior to signing.