Personal injury compensation: when your medical condition is in dispute

After a car accident occurs in which you were injured, it’s probably your priority to get back to normal as soon as possible. Injuries can turn your routine upside down, as well as lead to crippling medical bills. So if you weren’t to blame for the accident, you could be entitled to compensation to help you deal with at least some of the difficulties you’re facing.

However, if there’s a dispute about the extent and potential consequences of your injuries, this could that affect your entitlement to compensation.

Disputed medical conditions

There are two aspects of your injuries that could be the subject of disagreement:
• the type of treatment you received – different doctors will sometimes have different opinions about medical issues and will therefore recommend different treatment, and
• the degree of permanent impairment resulting from your injury.

Assessment of permanent impairment is carried out by medical experts who have been trained in the standard methods applicable for the various types of injuries. This practice was introduced to ensure consistency across assessments, so that people with comparable injuries are awarded comparable payouts.

Timing of the assessment

With serious injuries, it’s generally not possible to have the degree of permanent impairment properly assessed before you put in your claim for compensation. This is because a personal injury claim has to be lodged within six months of the accident, but your injury may not have stabilised by then. Some delayed effects may take months to show up as symptoms that require further medical treatment. For this reason, permanent impairment is often not assessed until about 12 months have passed since the accident.

The injury is only considered stable when there’s very little uncertainty about whether there’ll be further complications or unexpected consequences. Only then will the insurance company be able to estimate the full costs of your medical treatment, and factor it into their settlement offer.

When disputes arise

If the information from the treating doctor is adequate and there is no doubt about the nature of the injury and its consequences, the insurer may be able to make you an offer of settlement without referring you for any further medical investigation.

But depending on your injuries and whether the doctor provides sufficient information, the insurer may decide to send you to an independent medical assessor.
The resulting assessment may not always reflect what the injured person and their solicitor believes to be the full extent of the injuries. If this is the case, your solicitor may send you to a different medical assessor for a second opinion.

In this case, you may find yourself in a position where your permanent impairment is assessed at 5% by the insurance doctor, but at 15% by the doctor your solicitor sent you to.
Only those people with injuries assessed at over 10% are eligible for a lump sum payment as compensation for non-economic loss – pain and suffering, and loss of enjoyment of life – so the difference between an assessment of over or under 10% can have a major impact on the amount of compensation you receive.

Under circumstances such as these, the case will often go to the Medical Assessment Service (MAS) to resolve the dispute relating to your claim. The decision of MAS is binding, unless there’s been a procedural error. But if the injured person is still not happy with the assessment, further review is still possible.

Why you need legal advice

There are many potential pitfalls in a process such as this and attempting to deal with it without the help and advice of an experienced lawyer could result in an unsatisfactory outcome. It is not unusual for a legal team specialising in this area to be able to arrange for further review and an independent medical assessment of a client’s injuries, which in turn can result in much better compensation.

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