Tomorrow morning, I will be up at an ungodly early time and headed to Raleigh-Durham International Airport to fly to New Orleans for the weekend. This is nothing new for me, as I have flown many times over the past few years for both business and personal trips on many different airlines. The majority of people I’ve encountered in the terminals bemoan air travel because flights are seemingly always delayed. I would hate to be a customer service representative for an airline based on what I’ve heard. The airlines do not have to do much to please me, however, as I have come to expect delays and a general failure of anything to go right. I just have that kind of luck when traveling. In fact, if my flight and connecting flights leave the gate on time (with me aboard), I am having a great day. If they leave early, I feel the airline deserves some type of medal. Delays are just a fact of life.
Delays don’t just happen in the airports, though. They also happen in our bodies. It is often quite common to see a victim of a car collision go to the doctor for the first time one or two days later. Sometimes its even longer than that. That begs the question: Can someone sue for damages for a car accident after they refuse medical attention at the scene?
Yes, they can. Many doctors will tell you that injuries, especially soft tissue injuries, can manifest themselves sometime after a traumatic event occurs. They can manifest in a matter of hours, or sometimes even days. If you don’t think that makes sense, then think about your last strenuous workout. How did you feel right after the workout? I imagine tired and out of breath, but overall pretty good. Now, how did you feel the next morning when you woke up? Yeah, ouch.
People refuse medical treatment at the scene of the collision in a variety of different ways and for a variety of different reasons. Insurance companies try to exploit the science and common sense reasons to their advantage and often argue that the person either wasn’t injured at all because of it, or that they weren’t hurt all that bad to warrant all that medical treatment and compensation for the suffering they went through. Sometimes, juries buy into these arguments.
One of the common reasons why people refuse treatment at the scene of a collision is our body’s fight or flight response. Imagine the person who was minding their own business and was struck in the rear at a stop light. This is their first accident. In the few seconds after the collision, they have no idea what just happened because they are surprised and confused. Their body reacts by having their heart start beating; faster and faster and faster. Their hands are shaking. They are scared. They don’t know what to do. Adrenaline is released because its a scary and surprising event; and, adrenaline, by its very evolutionary purpose, can mask pain and symptoms of an injury. So, when asked if they are injured, the person often says “No.” or “I’m fine.” It’s not until later, when the victim of the collision calms down, that they begin to feel the pain.
The other common reason is a lack of health insurance. Millions of Americans are in the working middle class and have no health insurance. Ambulance rides are expensive, and so are ER visits. The average ambulance ride in this area costs between $400 and $600. The average ER visit ranges from $900 up to $5,000.00. For those without health insurance, these can be simply unaffordable costs. Thus, it’s not unusual for the person to take some Aleve or Tylenol to see if the symptoms will go away over a few days before seeking medical attention.
Just because someone refuses medical attention at the scene of the accident does not mean that they cannot recover for their legitimate injuries. In some cases, it can create issues in the case and can make recovery harder, but it does not mean you are barred from any recover at all. The longer the delay in treatment, however, the harder and harder it becomes to convince the insurance company and a potential jury to pay for the bills.
Disclaimer: The views of the author are his own. This blog post is not intended to convey any specific legal advice upon any individual and is intended solely as general information. The author is not a doctor. He bases the medical information in this post solely on his experiences deposing doctors in his cases and the occasional episode of the show “Life in the ER.” The author’s wife is also not a doctor, however, her status as an RN BSN leaves her being pestered in her home life by the author as if she was one. The author is stubborn and does not like going to the doctor. The author’s favorite reason thus far in his career for an individual not receiving medical treatment until sometime after the collision is the incarceration of said individual. This is typically not a good explanation to have to take to a jury. The reason should be obvious.