Should I Wait Until I Finish Medical Treatment Before I File My Car Accident Settlement?

The Importance of Reaching MMI Before Finalizing Your Car Accident Settlement

Getting the compensation you deserve after a car accident can be difficult. The insurance company will want to settle for as little money as possible, and it’s hard to know how much is fair, or the timeline of a typical car accident settlement. One major factor in this decision, is when you’re fully healed and expect no further medical bills or lingering injuries as a result of your accident. 

After the accident, some time will need to pass before you will really understand the severity and nature of the injuries suffered. Even a minor injury and pain can linger for weeks or even months after a car accident, and until that happens, it’s difficult to properly assess how it affects your life. Injuries that are more serious may require extensive medical treatment that could be ongoing and no clear end date.

What is MMI?

Depending upon the severity of your injuries, you’ll probably want to finish your medical treatments before you file your car accident claim. It can take weeks or months for you to meet the legal and medical standard for “fully healed”, which is known as maximum medical improvement, or MMI.

Wikipedia defines MMI well – describing it as “a state where their condition cannot be improved any further or when a treatment plateau in a person’s healing process is reached”.

You have medical bills piling up, may be missing work due to your injuries, and you probably just want to put the situation behind you. But tempting as it may be to settle quickly, waiting until you reach MMI so that your injuries are no longer worsening is, most of the time, going to get you a larger average car accident settlement.

Waiting For MMI

Car accident victims are often entitled to compensation for a number of different damages, including: medical expenses, lost wages, and pain & suffering. If you settle your claim while your injuries are still getting worse, there’s a good chance that you’re going to leave money on the table. So it’s usually advisable that you wait until you’re fully healed and have no more medical visits related to your auto accident injuries. 

Imagine this scenario: You get rear ended by a commercial vehicle while stopped at a traffic light, giving you a grade 2 whiplash injury and a minor concussion. After a trip to the ER, 4 weeks of chiropractic visits and 3 days of missed work, you decide that you’re “almost better”.

At this point the commercial truck driver’s insurance company has made you an offer that seems to cover your medical bills and lost income, and since you’re busy and want to put the situation behind you, you decide to accept the settlement for whiplash and concussion injuries you suffered.

A few days later, you fall asleep in a weird position and wake up unable to turn your head without a shooting pain in your neck. You return to the chiropractor who tells you that things are looking worse, you’ll probably need to come in for the next couple of months. To make matters worse, now that you can’t turn your head you can’t drive, so can’t work.

This will cost you thousands of dollars, but if you’ve already accepted the settlement, you’ll have no legal recourse to get compensated for any of it – all medical bills and lost income now come directly out of your pocket.

The scenario above illustrated why it’s so important to reach MMI before accepting a car accident settlement offer. It’s the only way you can be sure of the scope of your injuries & medical expenses.

Waiting for this particular moment in time is often termed waiting for Maximum Medical Improvement or Waiting for MMI. 

What is MMI? 

The legal definition of MMI is a level of treatment recovery where there is no functional, fundamental or physiological change that can be expected within a reasonable period of time, regardless of continuing to receive medical or rehabilitative procedures.

MMI will often coincide in your car accident settlement because it provides you with an estimate regarding possible damages. On your side, you will have a better concept of your pain and suffering, medical bills, lost wages and more, which help you to better arrive at a final demand figure.

The only way to know that you’ve reached MMI is by speaking to your doctor, or doctors, depending on the severity of your injury.

How Does a Doctor Determine MMI?

If you’ve got a soft tissue injury, like whiplash or back pain, your MMI will be determined by the state of your physical recovery. For injuries that require surgery – broken bones for example – doctors use X-Rays and MRI’s to determine when full healing has occurred.

There is also a subjective element to it. Doctors will ask you about pain levels when doing various things, range of motion issues, etc. If you’re still in pain doing normal day to day activities, or unable to physically do the things you were able to do before the auto accident, they’ll likely determine you haven’t reached MMI yet.

If all looks good physically and you’re not reporting any pain or problems, you’ve probably reached MMI and can start to put together your settlement demand.

What Happens After Reaching MMI?

Once you have reached MMI your doctor will provide a prognosis detailing the injuries, recovery time, etc. This will help inform and strengthen your settlement negotiations with the insurance company.

This settlement demand will be based on the damages you’ve suffered, including medical expenses, lost income, and pain & suffering. Now that you know the scope of those damages, you can feel comfortable knowing that the meter is no longer running, so to speak.

Tips for Reaching MMI Fully and Quickly

  • Never wait to seek medical treatment after your car accident. It is nearly universal that if you wait to seek medical treatment, the insurance company or defense attorney will argue that you couldn’t possibly be that seriously injured if you did not see a doctor for days or weeks after the accident. If you feel any pain or symptoms after the crash, get checked out by your doctor immediately. There is a natural tendency to avoid doctors and to try to tough out the pain, but legally, this is always a mistake.
  • Don’t miss medical appointments. The defense attorney and insurance company will check if you missed any of your medical appointments for your treatments. If you skip a doctor’s appointment, it probably will be noted in your file as DNS or “did not show”. The attorneys for the other side will argue that you must not have been seriously hurt, and you must not have been concerned about getting better.
  • Be honest with doctors about your medical history. You will be asked about your health history prior to the accident. He will probably ask questions about if you had any accidents that affect the same area of the body that was hurt in the accident. Do not try to hide any past conditions or injuries that affected the portion of your body that was injured.

Importance of a Car Accident Lawyer In the MMI Process

A car accident lawyer can be invaluable in reaching MMI. They will have experience dealing with insurance companies and know what to expect during the negotiation process. More importantly, they’ll know when MMI is reached and won’t let you get pressured into accepting a settlement that’s anything less than fair. Since car accident attorneys charge on contingency, they are paid as a percentage of your car accident settlement. This means you both have a vested interest in settling your car accident claim for as much money as possible and with as little wasted time.

Review: The Steps of a Car Accident Settlement

  1. Seeking medical treatment for your injuries
  2. Booking a free consultation with a qualified car accident lawyer
  3. Reaching MMI
  4. Determining the extent of your injuries & medical expenses
  5. Speaking to you lawyer about your case
  6. Negotiating a settlement with the insurance company
  7. Signing off on the final settlement agreement.

If you’ve reached MMI, congratulations! You’re one step closer to getting your case settled, getting the compensation you deserve, and moving on with your life. 

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