The Defense Doctor

Many people who have whiplash injuries experience no symptoms right away.  Doctors know that people who have been in car accidents often don’t develop symptoms – aches, stiffness, back and neck pain – for 48 hours, or even as much as a week later.

So you go to the doctor, and you are told that you have neck or back strain – cervical strain or lumbar strain.  What can you expect medically?  For most people, if you begin a program of physical therapy or chiropractic care and do your exercises, your symptoms will resolve within 6 months.  Some — maybe even most — people may in fact get better in 4 to 6 weeks — but that doesn’t mean that EVERYONE does.   One typical study compared 39 patients who had suffered neck injuries in car accidents, and found that 44% of them had persistent symptoms two years after the accident in which they were hurt.  31% had measurable neurological deficits two years on.  See K. Petterson et al., Disc Pathology After Whiplash Injury:  A Prospective Magnetic Resonance Imaging and Clinical Investigation, 22 Spine 283-88 (1997).   There have been many other similar studies in the past 25 years.

Notwithstanding these facts, insurance companies are able to hire doctors who will come to court to try to convince the jury that the injured person wasn’t really hurt, and she is just trying to run a scam.  Their argument runs like this:

  • The insurance doctors opine that “someone with this injury typically is completely cured in 4 to 6 weeks.” In fact,  the studies confirm what treating doctors know — that a significant percentage of people who suffered a “whiplash” injury in fact sustain long-term, chronic injury that requires long-term, chronic treatment.
  • The insurance doctors claim that the injured person who still has pain a year or more after the accident is just lying to try to boost a settlement or a jury verdict.  Again, hundreds of reputable medical studies say “no” — people who still complain of pain and who still need treatment a year later are not lying, or malingering.
  • The insurance doctors often claim — without evidence to support the claim — that patients complain of pain as long as they can get something for doing so (a financial settlement).  Again, many reputable studies say “no.”  One such study was B. Radanov et al., Long-Term Outcome After Whiplash Injury, 74 Med. 281-296 (Sept. 1995).  They looked at 117 patients who were living in a society and a legal structure that did not provide compensation for noneconomic losses.  After two years, 18% were still having symptoms.
  • The insurance doctors will try to argue (we usually are successful in keeping this evidence out) that the fact that a crash took place at low speeds means that if the person is complaining of injury from the crash, they must be lying because the force just wasn’t enough to cause real injury.  Again, the studies refute that argument.  Radanov’s study, referred to above, found 3 conclusions:

1.  The amount of the damage and the speed of the cars bear little relationship to the injury suffered by the cervical spine;
2.  Previous studies that tried to predict how hurt someone would be based on the speed of the vehicles were proven to be basically worthless.
3.  Those who were in rear-end collisions and unprepared for impact, with their heads rotated, fared the worse over time.

So why, if the medical evidence is clearly going the other way, do these doctors still fight for the insurance companies?

Some of these doctors make hundreds of thousands — even millions — of dollars a year doing defense medical examinations for insurance companies. In many cases, they don’t even examine the patient – they just look at medical records.  Then they give their opinion that the doctors who were treating the patient were idiots, and that they know better than the treating physicians even though they may never have actually seen the patient.  One of the doctors testifies that he views himself as being on a mission to save patients from over-treating doctors.  Some of them lie to courts about how they make their money.  They refuse to disclose their financial data, because if a jury could see how much money they make doing insurance defense exams, juries would find them to be less credible.

We have experience with dealing with these sorts of doctors, and have won settlements and jury verdicts in such cases that were quite satisfactory to our clients.  A few typical cases:

  • SK was sitting in her parked car when her car was struck by a truck.  She suffered a back injury that turned into a permanent condition called fibromyalgia.  The neurologist hired by the insurance company said that she really wasn’t hurt, but that perhaps a few weeks of care, and a few thousand dollars, were justified.  Her own treating doctors testified that her $17,000 in medical bills were all due to the accident, and we mediated a settlement of $100,000.
  • TB was a pedestrian who was knocked down by a driver in a parking lot.  She had back, neck and shoulder injuries, and medical bills of about $10,000, which her doctors testified were due to the accident.  The orthopedic surgeon hired by the insurance company said that she should have been fine after 6 weeks, that she should by reimbursed for about $1,700 of medical expenses, and that she probably hurt her back again when she carried her young child and any problems she was having now must have been caused by carrying her child.  Before TB came to us, she had tried to negotiate her own settlement; the insurance company was willing to give her $5,000.  The insurance company’s final offer to us was $15,000; the jury awarded TB $30,000.

In SK’s case, our doctor’s opinion was so clearly better grounded in sound medicine that we didn’t even have to go to trial.  In TB’s case, we had a real knockdown-drag-out fight over the insurance company doctor and how much money he was making from doing these insurance company record reviews; we discovered that he had made literally millions of dollars testifying for insurance companies.  This doctor is continuing to testify for insurance companies, and the battle continues to try to exclude or discredit him and other doctors like him.

We need to add a standard disclaimer — the results we have received in other cases cannot predict the result we might get in your case.  We can’t promise results — only effort.  If we can help you, call us at 434-293-8185.