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How long is too long to wait after a car accident to see a doctor?

By on Jan 21, 2019 in blog, Car Accidents, Personal Injury |

How long is too long to wait after a car accident to see a doctor or chiropractor? This is a question that frequently comes up with potential new clients that I talk to. People will often wait to see a doctor after a car accident. When they finally decide to see a doctor or chiropractor and realize they are really hurt, potential clients always want to know if they can still make a claim with the insurance company for their injuries?

First, let’s be clear that we are not talking here about the statute of limitations in Utah, which is four years. Technically, you could wait three and half years before seeing a doctor and still be within the required statute of limitations, however, your chances of prevailing on such a claim with the insurance company or in court would be minimal. This is because most people, including jury members, insurance adjusters, or judges, would find it unreasonable to believe someone had been hurt in a car accident and waited that amount of time to get treatment for their injuries.

Secondly, we are discussing making a claim for a settlement with the insurance company of the driver that was responsible or at-fault for the car accident, rather than a claim with your own insurance company for no-fault benefits, which has a different statute of limitation and a slightly different analysis.

So let’s go back to the original question, “How long is too long to wait after a car accident to see a doctor or a chiropractor?” That depends on why the person waited to see a doctor or chiropractor. Here are the most common response I get from potential clients, along with an analysis of each response.

How long is too long to wait after a car accident to see a doctor or a chiropractor because I thought I would get better on my own? The most common response is I get to this question is that the injured person waited to see a doctor or chiropractor because they thought their pain would go away on it’s own. Usually after waiting a couple week or even a couple months, the injured person realizes that the injury will not heal on its own and seeks a doctor or medical treatment. I believe this rationale for waiting to see a doctor or chiropractor is completely valid. Furthermore, I have a high success rate for clients who have waited up to a couple months to see doctor or seek medical treatment. I believe insurance companies realize that many jurors probably have done the same thing in waiting to see a doctor when ill or injured, and that should litigation be required, a jury or judge would find in the injured party’s favor.

Now if the injured party waits three to four months to seek medical treatment for the same reason above, the claim becomes a bit more difficult. Once again, I have had good success on representing client who have waited three to four months to see a doctor or chiropractor, but I typically will receive some push-back from the insurance adjusters. Furthermore, insurance companies will often offer lower amounts for settlements in this scenario. This probably reflects their belief that due to the additional time the injured person waited, a jury may not find their delay as reasonable.

Finally, what is an injured person waits five months or more to see a doctor or chiropractor after a car accident? In this scenario, the case becomes fairly difficult, but not impossible. The credibility or whether the injured person is truthful, will become very important. Some injured people, such as a ‘tough guy’ who never goes to the doctor for anything, may wait six months to see a doctor or chiropractor. Whether waiting that long is reasonable to see someone for an injury becomes debatable. Certainly for some people in some situations, it would be reasonable, but it would be a case-by-case analysis and certainly I would have to find the injured person truthful, rather than motivated by another reason to seek treatment and make a claim for a settlement so long after the car accident.

The second most common answer I get to why the injured person waited to see a doctor or chiropractor is because they did not have a way to pay for the medical care. Once again, I believe this rationale for waiting to see a doctor or chiropractor is completely valid. Many people hurt in car accidents in Utah are unaware that there are no-fault or PIP benefits available to them through their own automobile insurance to cover at least a portion of their medical bills. Additionally, some people do not have their own automobile insurance, as required by Utah law, which would provide these benefits. These injured people usually later discover that they had no-fault benefits available to them or that a doctor or chiropractor will work on a lien, which is a signed agreement to pay the doctor back out of the settlement proceeds. Sometimes a friend or co-worker will inform them of these options. as they complain about their pain. Other times they will go to a chiropractor for one visit, which is all the money they have available for medical care, and be informed of the options. Either way, they usually will not have started their medical treatment until weeks or months after the crash.

Which brings us back to the original question, “How long is too long to wait after a car accident to see a doctor or a chiropractor if you did not have money to pay for medical care but were in pain?” The analysis is similar to above, but in my experience anything less than four months would be considered reasonable by both an insurance company or jury. Anything beyond that time frame would need to be looked at in a case-by-case basis with the truthfulness of the injured party being a central focus.

Lastly, some injured people do not get timely medical treatment for a variety of other reasons: I was dealing with a more significant health issue for several months after the car accident. After the car crash, I returned to my home country for a couple months. I was recently transferred by my work to another state. I was dealing with a terminally sick partner and did not have time for medical care. I was suffering from extreme depression. In all these situations, it will be a case-by-case analysis, but the general timelines outlined above would loosely apply.

One final caveat, if you did receive any type of medical treatment after the car accident and then waited several months for follow-up care, that is referred to in the industry as a ‘gap in treatment’ and will be addressed in another article. If you did go to the hospital, an urgent care center, or doctor after the car accident and then waited months to see a doctor or chiropractor, that analysis would be different from above and the deadlines could be extended. That will be discussed more in another article.

How long is too long to wait after a car accident to see a doctor or chiropractor? As you can see, this is a complicated issues. Please call me if you have been injured anywhere in Utah, including Salt Lake City, West Valley City, or West Jordan to discuss more in detail.