Under Washington state law (RCW 51.32.110), the Department of Labor and Industries (L&I) has the right to request an independent medical evaluation to assess the medical condition of an injured worker. If an IME has been requested in relation to your work injury claim, you need to know how to protect your rights. Injured workers should be wary of independent medical exams. Here, our experienced Seattle workers’ compensation attorneys answer some of the most commonly asked questions regarding IMEs. Should you have any specific question, please do not hesitate to contact our law firm directly.
What Does ‘Independent’ Mean?
In reality, an independent medical exam is not truly ‘independent’. The term is a misnomer. It is much more appropriate to think of an IME as a ‘defense’ medical evaluation. While L&I may call them independent medical exams, the purpose is to write a report that very carefully scrutinizes the injured worker.
Notably, L&I will hire the same doctors over and over again to conduct these exams. They have pre-established relationships with these doctors and they pay for the examinations. With this type of incentive structure in place, it is clear the playing field is tilted against the injured worker. If an independent medical exam has been requested in your case, you should speak to a local attorney.
Is it a Bad Sign that an IME has Been Requested in My Case?
It is not always a bad sign, but you do need to be on high alert. At the very least, insurers are seeking additional information before they will approve your workers’ compensation claim. Though, in some cases, they may already be looking for reasons to reduce your benefits or to deny your workers’ compensation claim. With independent medical evaluations, your guard should always be up. The examiner is not on your side.
Should I Prepare for the Medical Exam?
Yes. Injured workers should always prepare very carefully for an independent medical examination. First and foremost, you need to be sure not to miss your appointment. If you cannot make the appointment, you need to reschedule immediately.
In addition, it is generally best to bring an observer with you to the IME. You can not bring your lawyer, paralegal or any other legal representation with you. As soon as you pull into the parking lot, please be aware that you may be being watched by a medical professional. You are being scrutinized.
Finally, you should never speculate or give your opinion to the ‘independent’ doctor. While you should certainly provide honest answers to good faith and fair questions, you are under no obligation to offer random speculation about your injuries. Never downplay your pain or struggles.
What Actually Happens at the Independent Medical Exam?
An independent medical evaluation is not designed to help injured workers get further medical assistance or to help them better understand or address their medical issues. Instead, the true purpose of this type of exam is to see if there is any reason that L&I can deny the claim or reduce the injured worker’s benefits. The doctor who is conducting your examination will be focused on answering a wide range of different questions, including:
- Is your injury or medical condition legitimate?
- Could a pre-existing injury be responsible for your condition?
- Have you reached maximum medical improvement?
- Is further medical treatment truly necessary?
- Can you return to work without significant restrictions?
- Do you have any long-term physical impairment?
I Do Not Agree With the Conclusions of the IME. What Can I Do?
You should take immediate action to protect your rights. The independent medical examiner does not get to make the final decision in your case. If your personal doctor disagrees with the assessment of the independent medical examiner, it is crucial that you assemble the strongest possible case to get your full and fair workers’ compensation benefits. If you have not already hired legal representation, you should do so immediately.
Do You Have a Specific Question? Speak to a Seattle Personal Injury Attorney Now
At The Walthew Law Firm, we provide effective, strong legal representation to injured workers when they need it the most. Our car accident attorneys in Seattle have served injured victims for more than 90 years. If you or your loved one has questions about the independent medical examination or any other workers’ compensation issue, we can help.
For a free, no obligation workers’ compensation consultation, please call us today at (206) 203-9246. With office locations in Seattle and Everett, we are proud to serve communities throughout Western Washington, including Bellevue, Tacoma, Federal Way, Kent, Kirkland, Redmond, and Renton.