First, I don’t advocate that anyone rack up thousands of dollars in medical treatment if they are not hurt in a car accident. This blog is intended for those who have been in a serious car accident and are truly injured. Timely and consistent medical treatment with the proper healthcare providers are some of the most important factors in properly handling a car accident case. A lawyer who lets his/her client treat on their own without monitoring or directing the treatment is not properly representing his/her client. Someone who is involved in a serious car accident should get to the doctor immediately after the accident if they believe they have been injured or are in pain.
Someone who has been in a car accident but waits several weeks to seek medical treatment has likely destroyed their own case. That is not always the case and sometimes there are compelling and logical reasons for the delay in treatment. However, the case is not off to a good start if the client waits nearly a month for medical treatment. Next, a patient who seeks medical treatment initially but then waits months for follow up treatment has also likely ruined their case.
Jurors do not find plaintiffs credible when they have major gaps in treatment or long initial delays in seeking treatment. The average person believes that an individual who was serious injured in a car accident will seek treatment immediately. They also beleive that individuals that suffer from continuing pain will continue to seek treatment in a timely manner. South Mississippi juries consistently refuse to award damages for people that delay in seeking medical treatment. If you are uninsured or otherwise can’t afford medical treatment, there are options available to you for getting the medical treatment that you need. Speak to our attorneys about this and they can help.
Typical treatment administered by the ER includes xrays and prescription of pain medication and/or anti-inflammatory drugs. ER visits following a car accident typically result in xrays to see if there is a fracture. MRIs are not common unless there is a suspected head injury or loss of consciousness. This is important in back or neck injury cases as MRIs show damage to soft tissue and xrays do not. An xray will not show a herniated disc. You will need a MRI to reveal a herniated or bulging disc.
Many clients want to know where they should treat if they have back pain or neck pain after the initial ER visit following a car accident. Ideally a client will treat with a primary care physician after the initial ER visit. The reason I advocate for treatment with a primary care physician is because juries typically view medical doctors as being the most credible healthcare providers. Your primary care physician will likely send you to physical therapy for a back or neck injury that is causing continuing problems and prescribe you some sort of medication for the pain and inflammation. Doctors are increasingly hesitant to prescribe narcotics so do not necessarily expect to be prescribed narcotics. Certainly, do not ask specifically for prescription of narcotics. A doctor may write in his medical record that you requested narcotics and it can hurt your credibility.
The typical car accident case involves what is known as a soft tissue injury. Soft tissue injuries involve inflammation around the spinal column. However soft tissue injuries do not involve a fracture or herniated disc. Patients are usually discharged from a soft tissue back or neck injury in less than 6 months.
An important term in car accident cases is maximum medical improvement. Maximum medical improvement (“MMI”) is a legal/medical term that means a patient has reached a point where they are as good as they are going to get. When a patient reaches MMI their doctor will release them. At that point the patient’s lawyer can collect all of their medical bills and medical records and draft a settlement demand.
Clients that have continuing pain several months after a car accident will typically need to have a MRI taken of their neck or back. Often times they are having the continuing pain because they have a disc injury. An injury to a spinal disc will cause the nerve roots running between the discs to be pinched. The pinching of the nerves causes pain. If you have a herniated or bulging disc your primary care physician will need to refer you to a neurologist or orthopedic spine surgeon. You will need to be evaluated for surgical intervention. Typically, if your MRI was positive for disc damage your specialist will order epidural steroid injections. The injections can provide relief by bring down the inflammation. A specialist may also refer you to a pain management physician for management of prescription medications or epidural steroid injections.
Clients that are not surgical candidates but who have ongoing pain problems may be offered medical branch nerve blocks. They may also be offered nerve ablation procedures where your pain management doctor will actually burn the nerve that is causing pain. Eventually the nerve will grow back, and the pain will return. Therefore, nerve ablations or rhizotomy procedures must be repeated over time. Pain management doctors may also offer you a spinal chord stimulator which is a device implanted into your back that will send electrical impulses that block the pain signals to your brain.
Catastrophically injured clients will often require surgical intervention and continuing pain management needs as well as outfitting of their home to assist with activities of daily living. The future medical costs for catstrophically injured clients can reach into the millions.
I always advise that my clients check in with me after doctor appointments and keep me apprised of their treatment. I also call clients to check in on their treatment. Proper management of medical treatment is key in a car accident or other personal injury claim. If you’ve been injured in a car accident or have suffered from other personal injury on the Mississippi Gulf Coast call Haug, Farrar & Franco and let us discuss your claim.