Following any accident, victims may want to file a claim to recover compensation through insurance companies. This could help recover damages sustained in an accident, but you need to understand what insurance companies want and whether you should give it to them.
During the claims process, insurers will want medical records and a signed medical release form from claimants. However, there are some reasons why you shouldn’t release medical records without a lawyer by your side.
Generally, insurers won’t require any information about past injuries or other unrelated information about your medical history. Your insurance company and the opposing party’s insurer will only need to know about the current injury and relevant documentation. You should never provide documentation about pre-existing conditions that these companies don’t truly need.
What Is a Medical Release?
Both state laws and the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) require medical professionals and facilities to protect all confidential health information from unauthorized access and disclosure. Medical providers can legally disclose this information to third parties through a medical release. These parties may include insurance companies that request medical information to either support or hurt an accident victim’s claim.
The Parties in a Medical Release
Medical releases typically involve four parties, depending on the circumstances:
- Patients – Patients are those whose medical records will go to the person or organization requesting them from their medical provider. They often receive or have received treatment in the past for conditions discussed in their records.
- Guardians – These are guardians or legal representatives who may appear on a medical release if the patient is a minor or dependent adult who cannot consent to the medical release on their own. The guardian would be responsible for approving the medical release in these instances.
- Organizations holding records – These are the organizations currently holding the patient’s medical records. They may include hospitals, doctors’ offices, clinics, therapists, or other organizations providing medical services and treatments.
- Organizations or individuals requesting records – Insurance companies, lawyers, and others may request medical release forms to gain access to the information from the organization holding a patient’s medical records.
When releasing medical records, patients or guardians can also set a specific end date that renders the medical release form invalid after a certain time. To prevent the unauthorized disclosure of medical records, patients or guardians should set an end date of around two years or less, which will help ensure medical records remain confidential.
While some situations warrant submitting a medical release form, you should avoid doing so at insurers’ request following an accident. They may make it seem necessary, but the fact is that signing a medical release without a lawyer can come with certain consequences.
Reasons Why You Shouldn’t Sign a Medical Release Without a Lawyer
If an insurance company wants you to sign a medical release, you should never do so without an attorney. There are multiple reasons why you shouldn’t sign this release under any circumstances without representation.
Signing Could Reduce Your Settlement Amount
Insurance adjusters want to avoid paying out high settlement amounts to accident victims. While the adjuster may make it appear as though they need access to your medical history to support your claim, the fact is that the details of your medical history could hurt the value of your claim.
For instance, if you sustained a back injury in an accident but have a history of pain in the same area of the body, the adjuster may claim that this pre-existing condition contributed to the current injury, even if this isn’t the case.
Compensation disputes could also prolong the claims process. Eventually, you may settle for a compensation amount far less than what the case is actually worth.
It Gives Insurers Private Information They Don’t Need
Following an accident, you may sustain a specific injury involved in the claim. If you choose to release your entire medical history, third parties may have access to information that you don’t want to release. Never permit insurance companies to look through private information that doesn’t apply to the claim.
It May Lead to the Denial of Your Claim
Insurance companies also look for any reason to deny a claim entirely. If insurance adjusters attempt to reason that pre-existing conditions led to the injuries resulting from the accident, this could compromise your entire claim. For example, they may reason that broken bones sustained in a car accident resulted from a similar injury sustained months or even years earlier.
Your Treatments May Continue
Medical records are often incomplete early on in the claims process. Victims have just started the recovery process, and injuries may worsen over time as doctors become more aware of their nature. If you sign a medical release too soon after an accident, your records might be incomplete and fail to accurately reflect the actual injury.
Victims often must wait until they’ve made a full recovery or reached maximum medical improvement (MMI) status before submitting medical records and beginning the settlement process.
How an Attorney Can Help Protect You
A knowledgeable and experienced lawyer can help with the insurance claims process in numerous ways. The first is the ability to prevent you from giving insurers more information than they need regarding your medical history. When working with a lawyer, you never need to negotiate directly with insurers. Instead, the insurance company’s requests go to the lawyer, who can then identify reasonable requests and submit information based on what insurers need.
Attorneys will help figure out which documents apply to the case and prevent insurers from accessing documents they don’t truly require. This will keep the insurance companies from being able to dispute your claim on unreasonable grounds and otherwise access unnecessary details.
Additionally, an experienced lawyer can help with general negotiations. They’ll be able to calculate all damages associated with the case to figure out how much it is worth. Based on this amount, the lawyer can work to recover the highest settlement amount possible during negotiations. Otherwise, accident victims may not be aware of the value of their claim, leading them to settle for an initial offer.
In some cases, insurance companies or negligent parties may not agree during settlement negotiations. While most cases don’t go past the settlement process, some may go to court. This would present new challenges to plaintiffs as they must go through the trial process. An attorney with trial experience would be able to provide reliable representation to help reach the best possible outcome for the plaintiff. They can prepare opening and closing arguments, hire expert witnesses to reconstruct the accident, and strengthen the plaintiff’s case.
These advantages are why hiring an accident lawyer to handle your case may be in your best interest. A good lawyer would be able to discuss your options in a free consultation, during which they can determine whether they’re capable of taking on your case.
Steps to Take When Filing an Insurance Claim After an Accident
If you are in an accident of any kind and believe another party’s negligence was the cause, you may want to file an insurance claim. Immediately after an accident, you can take the following steps to help support your claim.
Collect Information at the Accident Scene
You’ll have an easier time filing a claim with insurers if you gather sufficient evidence at the accident scene. This information should include contact and insurance details from all drivers involved. If you or anyone else sustained injuries or serious damage, it’s also important to contact the authorities and file a police report.
This report can create an official version of events that may support your claim. Contacting the authorities may also help victims get the treatment they need as soon as possible if they sustain serious injuries.
In addition to information about people at the scene, you should take photos or capture video footage of the scene if possible. You can use your cell phone to take pictures of the damage, including any property damage and injuries. Other evidence to collect will include witness information, contact details, and information about what they saw. Often, the police will record witness statements at the accident scene.
Get in Touch With Your Insurance Company
After returning from the accident scene, you should review your insurance policy. You can then use your policy number to check for coverage and deductible amounts. From there, you can start filing your insurance claim.
In some instances, individuals may be able to contact a specific insurance agent to begin the claims process. In others, they may need to contact their company’s claims department. This will put you in touch with an adjuster who can begin discussing the accident and initiate the claims process. If you sustained injuries and other costly damages, consult an attorney before discussing your case in-depth with insurers, including your own and a third-party insurer.
As mentioned, they may make requests that aren’t necessary for your case, or you may make a statement that hurts your claim if you’re not careful. An attorney can take over the negotiation process to maximize your chances of successfully filing a claim.
Keep in mind that you have a limited amount of time to file a claim before you’re unable to recover full compensation. This is called the statute of limitations, which will differ depending on the state. This makes it important to begin the claims process immediately after an accident.
Cooperate With the Investigation
Once the claims adjuster has begun investigating your claim, you should remain cooperative. The adjuster will discuss the accident with repair shops, witnesses, other insurers, and other parties connected to the accident. An attorney can help prepare statements and communicate with adjusters, which will further prevent you from inadvertently compromising your claim throughout the process.
Determine the Value of Your Claim
After completing their investigation and assessing the value of your claim, they will make an initial settlement offer if they approve your claim. While this figure may seem impressive, insurance adjusters work in the insurance company’s best interest.
The company will want to avoid paying out high settlement amounts, leading adjusters to make the lowest possible offer. Accident victims who don’t know the value of their claim may want to accept this offer, but if they do, this could prevent them from seeking a higher amount later.
A lawyer can help calculate the total amount of damages sustained in an accident, including economic and non-economic damages. Economic damages could include medical expenses, lost wages, and other damages with specific dollar amounts. Non-economic damages could include pain and suffering that victims experience, which aren’t as easy to determine.
Victims of gross negligence may want to take the case to trial and seek punitive damages. The initial offer from insurers won’t account for all of these damages or their value.
Contact an Attorney to Discuss Your Claim
Insurers may request a medical release form to obtain a claimant’s medical records during the claims process. However, this can be detrimental to accident victims’ cases. Releasing this information could lead insurers to dispute claims based on information that’s unrelated to the claim, and unauthorized parties may gain access to sensitive patient information.
Schedule a free consultation with a lawyer today to discuss a potential accident claim. They can determine your options.