Today I have had two conversations with two separate clients about when it is appropriate to move forward with trying to resolve a personal injury claim, and when it is appropriate to continue in medical treatment or to seek a second opinion with respect to medical care. It's not always an easy decision to be made and one which must be answered on a case by case basis. That being said, there are certainly some generalities that apply across the board to virtually all clients' cases.
Typically the number one factor to consider is the recommendation of the medical professionals overseeing an accident victim's care. These people are trained in recovering from personal injuries and have literally dedicated their lives to medical science. “I'm not a doctor, I'm just a lawyer, trust your doctor”, is something I routinely say in these situations. Most always this is the best advice. I usually advise my clients to let a medical doctor “quarterback” their care—or make the recommendations to other service providers whether the best approach would be physical therapy, chiropractic, acupuncture, or massage therapy for example, or whether simply “rest and time” are appropriate. The best legal advice is often to follow the medical advice. We look for our clients to reach what both medical and legal science call “medically stationary.” This is the point in time that either an injured person is back to pre-injury health, or the point in time when the current level of medical science can offer nothing more to make a person whole. For example, a person who suffers a significant spinal cord injury, might be medically stationary even though they are wheelchair bound and have lost the use of their arms and legs, while a person with a whiplash injury might not be medically stationary for several months or even years following a collision as doctors and therapists work to reduce inflammation and pain and increase function and range of motion. Usually it's best to trust the experts, and in terms of the human body, the doctors are the experts.
Sometimes however, that's not always the case. Sometimes a doctor who specializes in a certain area of medicine, despite trying hard to improve a person's symptoms, just doesn't have the experience and/or expertise to offer the best advice. We sometimes see this with specialty medical providers like chiropractors, physical therapists, or acupuncturists. These medical professionals might treat a patient for several months with little to no improvement. When this happens, my advice to these clients might be to seek a second opinion—especially from a medical doctor—and ask what else might be done to improve their symptoms.
Sometimes other factors might come in to play in deciding whether to move forward with resolution a case. These factors might be, for example, that limited insurance is available—if an at-fault party has liability limits which are insufficient to fully compensate an injured party, it might make sense to move forward and resolve that claim even if the injured person is not yet medically stationary. Another factor might be the immediate need of financial assistance. Sometimes our clients are so in need of money that even though an “early settlement” might lower the value of their case, the need for some money TODAY is better to them than the possibility of more money in the future. I can't make those types of decisions for my clients but I offer them my best advice on the possible consequences of their decisions.
In the end, knowing when to move forward with resolving a claim is something that only the client can decide and typically I encourage them to make that decision in consultation with not only myself, but their medical doctors, their family, and their friends. Each of those groups of people brings something unique and invaluable to the conversation and help inform and allow the client to make the best decision for themselves and for their unique set of circumstances.
If you've been injured in a collision and are considering moving forward to resolve your claim and have not yet consulted with an attorney, it would probably benefit you to reach out and consult with one. Most, including our office, offer free initial consultations and can discuss the rights and responsibilities associated with your claim.