It is not surprising that plaintiffs claiming to be injured in auto accidents are often evasive about their prior medical history and treaters. In an article published by the American Medical Association, “Examinee-Reported History Is Not a Credible Basis for Clinic,” Robert Barth, Ph.D., cites numerous studies confirming that claimants tend to misrepresent their pre-claim functioning as having been “superhuman,” and distort their reported history in a fashion that potentially inflates the financial compensation for their claims.
This forces defense attorneys to utilize alternative methods in their ongoing attempt to locate the pre-accident smoking gun:
- Jail medical records: In a recent Michigan case, a plaintiff admitted he previously suffered a closed head injury from a prior auto accident. However, he claimed that he never had seizures before a subsequent auto/pedestrian incident, and was not taking Depakote for seizures. There was a gap in his post-MVA treatment, and it was discovered he was incarcerated. Indeed, the jail medical records confirmed a year before the accident that he suffered a seizure and was taking Depakote, an anti-seizure medication, for his condition.
- MasterTrace: This service bears fruit, particularly when a plaintiff has no prior history of health insurance, and has lived in other states. MasterTrace performs an extensive canvass profile of hospitals and pharmacies within a certain designated radius and matches up with the plaintiff’s background information to come up with potential “hits.” However, this service can be expensive, depending on the nature of the search.
- Prescription Drug Monitoring Programs (PDMP): A PDMP is an electronic database that collects designated data on substances dispensed to a patient in the state. Thirty-seven states currently have PDMPs. On September 1, 2011, pharmacists in Florida began submitting data to the recently implemented Florida Prescription Drug Monitoring Program. Across the country, access to this information is restricted to physicians and law enforcement personnel. While defense attorneys are not able to subpoena the information, if you are lucky, the plaintiff’s treating physician may request a PDMP if he or she suspects drug abuse or doctor shopping. Generally, the physician will not supply a copy of the PDMP in a standard subpoena unless requested, or if you happen to come across it during a review of the actual file in a doctor’s deposition. If you do land such a report, it may provide an abundance of information, including prior treaters and pharmacies, and demonstrate evidence of pre-accident drug abuse.
- Veteran Administration Records: Do not skim over the fact that a plaintiff served in the military 40 years ago. He or she may still be treating and receiving prescriptions from your local VA hospital. Further, if a plaintiff is receiving a pension from the VA, he or she periodically has to undergo a disability determination, and fill out paperwork. It is always compelling to see what the plaintiff tells the VA, as compared to Social Security Disability, workers’ compensation, and plaintiff's own treaters during the identical time frame.
- Health Insurance Cards: Somewhere in every treater’s medical record, hospital’s intake sheet, or hidden deep within a prior auto accident claim file is a copy of plaintiff’s health insurance card (if he or she has one). If located, these health insurance records may provide a precise history of all prior hospital, doctor and pharmacy visits.
A plaintiff is not going to hand you his or her pre-accident history on a platter, so expect to do some extra digging. With enough persistence, you may ultimately discover a wealth of information that could undermine the plaintiff’s credibility and case.
Robert Abramson is an associate in the law firm of Kopka, Pinkus, Dolin & Eads in Farmington Hills, MI. He specializes in first-party, third-party and uninsured motorist claims in Michigan. Mr. Abramson is a member of DRI's Young Lawyers and Insurance Law Committees.