Treatment for a Car Accident Injury: How Long Can You Treat?

One of the most frequent and important questions regarding treatment for an injury stemming from a car accident is how long you can treat and expect that the at-fault driver's insurance company will pay for your treatment. Some injuries, such as a broken bone, may be fairly predictable, while other car crash injuries may take significantly longer to mend.

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Big Picture: Treat Until You're Healed

The law basically says that if you were injured and it was not your fault, it is the other party's responsibility to make you whole again. This has been interpreted to mean that you should essentially be put back in the same position you were before the car crash. One way insurance companies avoid paying medical claims from car crashes is by saying that your injuries were "preexisting conditions," or in other words, you already had the ailment or were hurt in that area of your body before the car crash. If that is true, the insurance company (who steps in for the actual driver who caused the crash), does not have to pay for your medical bills relating to a preexisting condition. But what if you were injured in an area of your body that was already painful or hurt, and now it is worse?

Aggravation of Preexisting Conditions

Nobody is perfectly healthy, and the older we get, the more ailments we tend to have. For example, it is common for older people to have back pain. So if you have back pain before a car accident, does that mean that you can't receive medical treatment for the pain if it is now worse than it was before your car accident? California courts have taken the approach of looking at what is fair and reasonable, and consider whether the treatment received is medically necessary. Thus, if you had a bad back before the crash, but it has gotten worse, you should be able to seek treatment. After all, the increase in pain cannot be attributed to you being older, but directly relates to the car crash. Thus, California residents (and this is the same for those living in Southern California as in Northern California) should consider getting medical help and treatment for the aggravation and exacerbation of prior injuries if it is reasonable and medically necessary.

Examples of Treating Prior Medical Conditions

Consider that some people are involved in multiple car crashes. After all, California roads are among some of the busiest in the country, and some of our cities, like Los Angeles, Orange County metro area, like Irvine and Costa Mesa, see millions of drivers every week on their thoroughfares. Thus, some people experience a car wreck more than once. What if a person is injured, received medical treatment and is feeling better, and then gets in another car accident that is not his or her fault, but is injured in the same way again?

If the injury is in the neck and back, the individual will likely follow this type of treatment: a visit to a doctor, which may include going to the emergency room or an urgent care, but often is simply a visit to your primary care physician; then, perhaps they have an x-ray taken, or an MRI, in order to find out the extent and severity of the injury; next, they may go to a chiropractor or pain management doctor and try to heal their injuries through therapy; finally, if necessary, the individual may have a surgical procedure, such as a fusion surgery, or receive a stem cell injection, or an epidural injection. There tends to be a chronology of care that increases in seriousness as the treatment continues. Nobody wants to have an epidural injection, or have an invasive procedure like surgery on their back. However, if the pain a person feels continues, they may elect these procedures.

How do Insurance Policy Limits Play In?

The more treatment an injured person receives, the more expensive it will be. The more intensive the treatment, such as surgery or injection of an epidural or stem cells, the more costly the care is. But what happens if there is not enough money in the at-fault driver's insurance policy? The basic answer is that the at-fault driver's insurance company can rarely be made to pay you more than what their insured's policy limits are. Thus, if the individual who caused the crash was insured for only $15,000, at the end of the day, that is likely the most the insurance company will pay for your medical bills. Of course, if there is a bigger insurance policy, and your injury requires more costly medical care to recover from, then the insurance company will be made to pay more to make you whole again.

It does not seem fair that the same injury can settle for different sums of money, but consider a situation in which two people have the same injuries, but one was injured by someone with a million dollar insurance policy, and the other person was injured by someone with a $15,000 "minimal" policy (in California, to legally drive on California roads, $15,000 is the minimum amount of liability coverage individuals need to be insured for). Now, consider that the two people both need a surgery that costs $50,000. The individual who was hit by someone with a million dollar policy will be able to get the surgery and can reasonably predict the insurance company will eventually be made to foot the bill. The individual hit by the driver with the minimal insurance policy may elect to get the surgery, but how will they pay for it? If the insurance company pays the $15,000, what happens to the remaining $35,000 of the bill? And what about pain and suffering, lost wages, and future medical treatment?

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How an Injury Attorney Can Help

Most people don't know how to proceed in a situation such as the example shown above - even finding out how much the at-fault driver is insured for can be a great challenge to people who are not represented by an injury lawyer. The good news is that injury law firms usually work on a contingency fee basis, meaning whatever money they are paid comes out of what they win. For example, most injury lawyers will pay all the costs on a case up front, and won't get pain anything until they win your case, so you're never left writing a check to your lawyer, not knowing whether you'll actually win in the end or not.

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An injury attorney can help you compare your situation to other cases, and can help advise regarding policy limits, jurisdictional issues (a case in San Francisco may play out differently in court than it would in Los Angeles County, or Orange County), and other questions you might have. Regarding how long you should treat, a good injury lawyer will be able to get into the details about your prior injuries or ailments, and will help you understand the process of how injury cases are handled, including what the general value of your case may be, and whether or not your case is one that will likely go to trial or not. 

Ask More Questions

The more you understand how the injury claims process works in California, the better position you will be in to make wise and educated decisions. If you're like most people, this is new territory. Fortunately, injury lawyers and most injury law firms have seen hundreds and sometimes thousands of cases, and their attorneys can compare your case with the outcome of similar cases. Without knowing how similar cases worked out in the past, you will have a hard time making educated decisions regarding your treatment. For this reasons, many people find it helpful to discuss their injury with a car crash lawyer, even if they don't decide to hire the lawyer. The more you know, the better you'll be in the long run, and that is never more true than when it comes to treating your car accident injury.