Independent Medical Examinations (IMEs): What you need to know

October 3 2023

If you are injured in an accident and have started a lawsuit against the person you believe is responsible, your ultimate goal is to obtain monetary compensation for your injuries and losses. A key consideration in determining the appropriate amount of compensation you are entitled to is the extent of your injuries and how they affect your life. Often, these elements will be contested by the at-fault party, who may believe your injuries are less serious than you claim.

It is important for both sides to have a clear understanding of what your injuries are, what your prospect for improvement is, and what type of treatment you will need in the future. One way for the parties to establish these things is by having you undergo an Independent Medical Examination, or IME.

What makes an IME “Independent”?

An IME is “independent” because the specialist who performs the examination has not treated you before. For example, it will not be conducted by your family doctor, or a specialist who has been involved in your care. While those people are experts in medicine and are qualified to give an opinion about the extent of your injuries, they are not independent since you already have an established relationship with them. The purpose of an IME is to get a fresh opinion, unaffected by any prior involvement with your medical history.

Who Performs the Independent Medical Examination (IME)?

Depending on the nature of your injuries, there are several types of practitioners who could perform an IME. For example, if you have a jaw injury, a dentist or TMJ specialist could examine you; if you have a back injury that affects your whole person and total wellbeing, a physiatrist could perform the IME; or if you have a head injury or emotional damages, your examination could be carried out by a neuropsychologist.

What is the difference between DME and IME in personal injury cases?

In Canada, both DME and IME proceedings can be used in personal injury claims. The fundamental difference between these two is their goal and the level of impartiality associated with them.

A Defence Medical Examination (DME) is typically requested by the defendant or the defendant’s legal team. The specialist examining you will still be a medical professional who does not know you; however, it will be someone that the defence has selected. A DME’s primary purpose is to thoroughly examine the plaintiff’s injuries or medical condition in order to identify the extent, cause, and impact of. Although the professional is hired by the defence, it is important to know that they are bound by a code of ethics that requires them to be honest and objective in their medical assessments.

In contrast, an Independent Medical Examination (IME) can be solicited by either party involved in a legal case, with the goal of obtaining an impartial assessment of the plaintiff’s medical condition. This means that the medical professional conducting an IME is meant to be an unbiased third party, chosen and agreed upon by both parties.

Could There Be More Than One IME?

It is not uncommon for both sides to request that you undergo an IME from the same type of doctor. For example, if you have suffered from depression since your accident, your lawyer might send you to an IME with a psychologist of their choosing, and the insurance company or other party might send you to a different psychologist.

Even though both psychologists are examining the same person (you), they may reach a different conclusion about the extent of your injuries. Defendants and insurance companies, as well as your own lawyer, will have doctors whom they know and trust to be more favourable to their position in the case. However, these doctors are not biased; they are still bound to be honest and objective about your injuries when they deliver their report.

Is it Mandatory to Attend a Defence Medical Examination?

In most cases, it is highly recommended that you attend and cooperate with a medical examination requested by the defence, since refusing to do so could harm your claim. The Alberta Rules of Court allow for medical examinations in any case where the mental or physical condition of a person is at issue and provide courts with the power to make an order compelling attendance if a party refuses. In addition, if you are currently receiving benefits under an insurance policy, refusing to attend an examination that the insurer has requested may result in your benefits being suspended.

On the other hand, there may be circumstances where the defence or an insurer is requesting a medical examination that your lawyer feels is inappropriate or unnecessary. The best course is always to discuss any concerns you have with your lawyer and get their advice about whether the request for you to attend an DME is reasonable. For tips on some “Dos and Don’ts” to keep in mind during a Defence Medical Examination, have a look at our previous blog on that topic and our video available here.

What Information Are You Required to Provide to the Examiner?

As part of the IME, the medical professional who will be examining you may request to see your past medical records. Once again, it is likely not open to you to refuse, as long as the records requested are relevant to the injuries included in your claim. Past medical history is normally required to be disclosed as part of the litigation process, so that the opposing party can assess what your medical condition was prior to the accident, and whether any pre-existing injuries or conditions may have a bearing on the symptoms you are suffering today.

However, before your medical records are made available to the opposing party’s expert, you will be asked to sign a release form indicating that you consent to the disclosure. It is critical that you retain a lawyer before you do this. Your lawyer can help make the transfer of the documents easier; more importantly, they will ensure that the scope of disclosure you consent to is reasonable and limited to necessary information that has a bearing on your current claim.

What Can You Expect at the IME?

When you attend the IME, it is important to cooperate with the examiner and answer their questions honestly. If you are not honest about your symptoms or exaggerate your injuries, the examiner will likely be able to tell based on your prior health records and their examination. This will go into their report and could be unfavourable to your case. If you are truthful and forthright with the examiner, it will help your credibility.

In addition to conducting a medical examination appropriate to their area of expertise, the medical examiner will also likely ask you to describe what happened to you, what your injuries are, and the impact they have had on your life. However, the questions that they ask you must be relevant to the accident; fishing expeditions are not allowed, and your lawyer can help prepare you in advance to know what kinds of inquiries fall within the appropriate scope of questioning.

You may also be permitted to have a friend or family member accompany you to the examination if you need assistance or have any anxiety about the process. In some cases, it may also be possible for the examination to be videotaped by a qualified videographer.

CAM LLP – Experienced Personal Injury Lawyers

The team of experienced lawyers at CAM LLP has guided injured people through hundreds of independent medical examinations (IMEs) and Defence Medical Examinations (DMEs). If you have been injured in an accident and want to discuss your situation, please CONTACT us for a free consultation.