Here's the short of it: the better patient you are, the better it looks to the insurance company and the more money your claim will be worth.
Some of the best advice I can give to injury victims as a Fort Worth personal injury lawyer can be expressed in three simple statements:
- Seek medical attention as soon as possible
- Tell the doctor everything – no matter how inconsequential
- Listen to what the doctor tells you and follow their instructions
Seek Medical Attention as Soon as Possible
If you’ve been in a car, truck or motorcycle wreck, don't delay seeing a doctor. Not only do you need to visit the doctor to recover, and to make sure your injuries are not worse than they first appear, but the longer you wait to seek treatment, the harder it will be to win compensation (from the at-fault driver's insurance company) for that treatment. This is because when there's a gap between the wreck and your doctor's visit, the insurance company will argue that the two are not related. "The injury must not be from the car accident, because the victim didn't go to the doctor until two weeks later. How can we know the injury was even caused by the accident?"
Tell the Doctor Everything – No Matter How Inconsequential
Don’t worry about bothering your doctor with little things. You never know when something relatively minor could turn into something huge. Remember that your doctor will keep detailed records of everything you discuss, and that these records will ultimately become evidence in support of your case. Don’t leave anything out. Don’t just focus on the major sources of pain – make sure your doctor is aware of everything. Failure to do so means at best you’re leaving compensation on the table or at worst that you’re ignoring symptoms which could have devastating consequences for you down the road.
What It Means to Be a Good Patient
All accident victims who want to pursue a claim are expected to be "good patients." If you were hurt in a car wreck, bit by a dog, fell at work, etc., you're expected to do everything your doctor tells you to do. You must attend all doctors' appointments. If you can't make an appointment, call ahead, tell them why and reschedule. Keep communication open. Don't skip taking your medication. Don't skimp on at-home physical therapy. And so on.
What Happens If You Miss Doctor's Appointments?
Aside from setting back the healing process, it devalues your claim.
When a medical provider writes down a "no show" in your record, it looks very bad later on when the records are being reviewed by the insurance company (or the jury if your case goes to trial).
I cringe every time I hear the insurance company talk about my clients being "no shows." The distinct implication is that my clients aren't as hurt as they say they are, otherwise they'd have bothered to show up for their doctor appointments. Those situations put me on the defensive, when instead I would rather keep the focus on my clients' injuries and the effects they've had on their lives.
What Happens If You Don't Follow Your Doctor's Advice?
Again, it devalues your claim.
For example, it's common for surgeons to tell surgery patients to stop smoking. Smoking delays the recovery process after a surgery and surgeons often order smokers to stop. So what happens if you ignore your doctor's advice and continue to smoke? The doctor usually notes that in your records. And what does the insurance company do with that tidbit? They use it against you.
In Texas, you have a duty to mitigate (or lessen) your damages. By failing to follow your doctor's advice, it means you are not lessening your damages. Insurance agencies don't want to pay victims money if the victim isn't doing their part to heal.
What Happens If You Delay Treatment?
Being a "good patient" also means that you don't do anything to delay your treatment, as timely treatment will help you heal and recover faster. Doctors often leave it up to you to schedule certain appointments. You must not delay scheduling any diagnostic tests (such as MRIs) or physical therapy appointments.
Large gaps in treatment give insurance companies one more thing to hold against you during the claims and litigation process. Once again, the system operates under an assumption that if you are hurt, you go to the doctor. You can devalue your case by not being what juries and insurance companies consider "a good patient."
Why Future Medical Treatment Can Affect the Value of Your Case
If your injuries will require future medical treatment, your claim's value should reflect that additional expense. Does your doctor or surgeon believe you will need more treatment in the future? What are the estimated costs of that treatment? In Texas, the law requires that your doctor state that it's probable that your future medical treatment will be necessary. The mere chance that future medical treatment might happen doesn't add any value to your case.
Note: You can't assume your doctor will include future medical estimates in your records. This is an issue that an experienced personal injury attorney is used to handling and will be able to obtain through deposition testimony when necessary.