In my practice as a Philadelphia trucking accident and car accident lawyer, I have noticed a disturbing trend. More and more frequently, auto insurance companies and their overzealous lawyers are attempting to intimidate car accident victims into having defense medical exams—misleadingly called “independent medical exams” (IMEs)—in highly inconvenient, faraway locations. There is usually a good reason for the defense to choose a doctor located in a place that requires “burdensome and extensive travel.” It is, quite simply, to harass the injured party.
Generally speaking, the doctor chosen for an IME is “on the payroll”—that is, paid generously by the insurance carrier to write a medical report that is biased in favor of the insurance company. As many physicians watch their incomes decline, with changes in insurance reimbursements, this practice provides a welcome source of revenue. And, indeed, the monetary rewards are great for a report that contests the victim’s complaints.
It is well established, under the law of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, that a plaintiff should not be compelled to travel a great distance, unless the insurance company and its attorneys show good cause for the requested examination. Thus, the defense lawyer for the insurance company must prove the need for the exam.
A skilled plaintiff’s counsel should always argue that traveling an unreasonable distance without good cause is unduly burdensome to his or her client--which is especially true if the client is injured and in pain. He or she should also argue that, if an examination by such a doctor-- sometimes called a “painted lady” expert—is needed, the doctor can travel to another office closer to the plaintiff. The Court will generally determine whether good cause exists for travel to an extreme location.
The Pennsylvania Rules of Civil Procedure provide that “when the mental or physical condition of a party is in controversy, the party may be able to submit to a physical or mental examination.” The law further stipulates that this order may be made “only on motion for good cause shown, and upon notice that the person shall be examined, and shall specify the time, place, manner, and scope of the examination, and the person or persons by whom it is to be made.” The law also states that no discovery shall be permitted in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania that “would cause unreasonable annoyance, embarrassment, oppression, burden, or expense” to any party.
Our office aggressively contests unreasonable independent medical examinations, and we will often assert to the Court—utilizing MapQuest or other services readily available on the Internet—that such an exam requires driving hundreds of miles, for a plaintiff or victim who is already injured. The Courts have generally ruled that requiring a plaintiff to travel in excess of a hundred miles to attend an IME–- without extraordinary proof that a qualified physician in the specialty is not available in plaintiff’s home county or closer location—is unreasonable. In the Philadelphia metropolitan area, with its unparalleled medical resources, this is most often the case.
You and your lawyer should not be afraid to tackle the opposition--namely the insurance company and its defense attorneys—and make it prove to the Court that a good cause exists for an examination by a doctor located far away.
Jeffrey Reiff has litigated thousands of car accidents since 1979. He is a member of the National Trial Lawyers’ Top 100 Trial Lawyers, and has been voted one of the Top 100 Lawyers in Philadelphia. He is regularly nominated as a Pennsylvania Super Lawyer, and has received the AVVO 10/10 People’s Choice Award.