When you get to the hospital after an auto collision, be sure to give a complete and accurate medical history to the doctor and nurse. Include any injuries from previous car accidents, worker’s compensation claims, or other previous injuries. When speaking to a doctor, try to distinguish the differences between the pain and injuries caused by the accident from any chronic pain or pain from previous conditions or injuries. The doctor will consult with you regarding necessary radiology studies and testing, and it is best to consent to the recommended procedures. This initial evaluation will be written up in documents that may later be very important in the event of litigation or negotiation with auto insurance companies.
Hospital staff will collect your auto and medical insurance information, and there will likely be several sources of coverage, including medical pay auto coverage, UM/UIM coverage, and health insurance plans. Remember, the driver’s auto policy, the passenger’s auto policy, and the car owner’s policy are all sources of potential coverage, so don’t leave any stones unturned when finding insurance benefits!
If medical pay insurance coverage is applicable, the hospital will bill the auto insurance related to the vehicle the patient was in, since hospitals are unable to participate in third party billing. The insured’s health insurance plan will then act as a secondary insurance carrier.
If possible, contact the medical pay auto insurance directly to report the incident and obtain any further specific instructions. The health insurance plan may require follow up with specific providers or locations other than those referred by the hospital providers. Be sure to convey any additional information gathered to the hospital staff.
Take care to gather information prior to discharge from the hospital, including the names of caregivers, and include contact information to obtain complete medical records and any available testing results. If the patient is unable to understand or remember prescription and care instructions, delegate a trusted family member or friend to perform these functions. The hospital will furnish a complete copy of discharge instructions, which should be saved for future reference.
Finally, be sure to take pictures of all injuries throughout the treatment and healing process. A picture truly is worth a thousand words with juries and insurance adjustors. It is also important for the patient to keep a detailed journal of how he or she is feeling each day, what activities are limited, and the pain he or she is feeling.
Remember—you may later need to justify a money demand—this means documentation is key!
Joe Lusk is chair of the Solo and Small Firm section of the Colorado Bar Association, and is an attorney with Boatright & Ripp, LLC in Wheat Ridge, Colo., where his practice includes personal injury and criminal defense. Leslie Bauer owns Aspen Legal Nurse Consultants in Denver, and is a board certified Adult Nurse Practitioner. She currently works as registered nurse in the emergency department at Exempla Lutheran Medical Center in Wheat Ridge.