In the immediate aftermath of 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. My clients frequently 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 course of action at the time, declining medical evaluation can cause problems down the line, if your injuries progress or develop, which is common. Immediately following a crash, our adrenaline is spiking, and our fight-or-flight response is engaged, which can mask injury symptoms. 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 here is why it’s wise to take the time to be evaluated at the accident scene by medical personnel.
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, your injuries develop into much more serious symptoms requiring medical treatment. If you declined to be treated at the accident scene, but then required some treatment (like an ER visit with X-rays and CT scans, for example), when you later try to file a claim to cover your medical expenses, the insurance company is likely to view your lack of immediate treatment as proof that you were not legitimately injured.
Claim adjusters rely on a timeline of medical documentation in order to piece together and properly value a claimant’s injury. It is common that a client tells me they denied to be treated by EMS at the scene, opting to ‘go home and see how they feel’. 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.
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 injuries require your attorney to paint a picture of your injuries, in order to justify the claims value. Proper and consistent medical care paints the strongest picture possible, and if the documentation of your pain, suffering and your injury’s severity 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.