Following a car accident, EMS (Emergency Medical Services) often arrive in an ambulance to assess if anyone is seriously injured, and needs to be transported to a hospital for evaluation or treatment. I often hear clients report that they ‘felt fine’ at the time of the accident and declined to be evaluated by EMS at the scene, since they weren’t experiencing any pain or symptoms, or their minor aches and pains were not concerning. While this seems like a reasonable and logical course of action at the time, declining medical evaluation can cause problems down the line, if your injuries progress or develop, which they often do in car crashes. Immediately following a crash, our adrenaline is spiking, our fight-or-flight response kicks in, not to mention the tendency for sprain/strain symptoms to ramp up over the first 24-72 hours. I’m not saying that you should go to the hospital for every minor fender bender, but it is wise to take the time to be evaluated at the accident scene by medical personnel. Here’s why:
Delayed Onset Symptoms
Often times, injuries that don’t involve broken bones (referred to as soft tissue injuries) can have a delayed onset of symptoms. This means that you might feel OK (or maybe a little stiff) at the time of the crash, but hours or days later, the stiffness can turn into much more serious symptoms requiring treatment. If you declined to be treated at the accident scene, but then required some medical treatment (like an ER visit with X-rays and CT scans, for example) and then try to file a claim later to cover your medical expenses, the insurance company evaluating the claim is likely to view your lack of evaluation at the accident scene as proof that you were not legitimately injured. This has nothing to do with logic, but it’s often how these situations are treated.
Timeline of Treatments
Injury claims rely on a timeline of medical documentation in order to piece together and properly value a claimant’s injury. I can’t tell you how often a client tells me that they denied to be treated by EMS at the scene, opting to ‘go home and see how it goes’. They routinely find themselves in the ER or primary physician’s office a day or two later with significant symptoms as a result of sprains, strains, contusions, or other soft tissue injuries.
Painting the Picture
Insurance companies tend to undervalue soft tissue injuries, and they look for opportunities to minimize the severity of these claims. Since the severity level of soft tissue injuries are dictated by the symptoms, treatments, and treatment duration, thorough medical documentation is vital to getting properly compensated. Demonstrable injuries (such as broken bones, joint injuries etc…) are validated with diagnostic tests like X-Rays and Cat scans, and are much more concrete in the eyes of an insurer. The murky waters of soft tissue injury require your attorney to paint a picture of your injuries, in order to justify the claims value. This picture can only be painted with medical documentation, and if the documentation is not there, there’s very little your attorney can do to increase the value.
All of this is why it’s well worth it to take the time to be evaluated for injuries by EMS at the accident scene. Think of it as an insurance policy: Hopefully you won’t need it, but if your symptoms do worsen (as they often do in a car crash) over time, you have this puzzle piece to add to the big picture when it comes time to settle with an insurer.