Court of Appeals Imposes Sanctions for Failure to Comply with Independent Medical Evaluation

In personal injury and car accident cases, one of the central issues that a jury must decide is whether a plaintiff has been injured and, if so, the extent of those injuries. This is typically done through the introduction of medical bills, statements of medical providers, and disclosure of results of tests and other treatments. In order to properly mount a defense and argue for lesser damages, defendants are entitled to access to a plaintiff’s relevant medical records and even to have an independent medical evaluation conducted in order to determine the extent of the plaintiff’s injuries. Although independent medical evaluations (IMEs) may seem invasive, they are permitted under the rules and must be complied with, as a recent case illustrates.

In this car accident case, C.P. was injured after a severe accident with K.B. C.P. sued K.B. alleging that his negligent driving was the cause of the accident and that he was responsible for her physical injuries, emotional distress, and future medical issues that might arise. K.B. acknowledged that he had some fault for the accident but disputed the extent of Plaintiff’s injuries. During discovery, K.B. sought to set up an IME with C.P. to have her reviewed by an independent medical provider. Despite repeated inquiries, C.P. refused to comply with K.B. in setting up a date for the IME. Eventually K.B. unilaterally set up a date and C.P. failed to appear.  At this point, K.B. went to the court requesting that the court order an IME. C.P. moved for a protective order but failed to provide details for why she needed protection and it was denied. The court ordered that the parties work together to schedule an IME.

K.B. reached out to C.P. four times in separate letters offering dates for a possible IME but received no response. After being unsuccessful at scheduling the IME, K.B. filed a motion to dismiss C.P.’s complaint. The trial court found that C.P. was in willful disobedience of the court’s order to schedule an IME. However, rather than dismiss the complaint, the court imposed sanctions prohibiting C.P. from presenting any evidence of her injuries, including medical bills or medical testimony, at trial. After an eventual trial in the case, the jury awarded C.P. only $500 for her injuries and she appealed.

On appeal, C.P. argued that the court had erred in ordering an IME and in granting sanctions. Looking to the rules in Tennessee, the court of appeal noted that Rule 35.01 permits an IME whenever a plaintiff has alleged mental or physical injuries. Here, because C.P. had alleged extensive physical injuries and emotional distress, the appeals court held that an IME was warranted.  C.P. argued that the scope of the IME requested by K.B. was overly broad and asked her things such as her history of sexual abuse. The appeals court agreed that the IME should have been narrowed in scope but noted that C.P. never requested such protection from the lower court. Her protective order did not raise this issue and she did not raise it elsewhere, so the trial court had no way of knowing that this was C.P.’s issue with the IME.

Because an IME was proper, the court of appeals next turned to the sanctions imposed when C.P. failed to comply with the order for the IME. The court of appeals noted that Rule 37 explicitly allows a judge to impose sanctions when a party fails to comply with an order requiring discovery, and that where a party fails to do so, one acceptable sanction is to prevent the party from presenting its own evidence on that issue at trial. Here, that is what the lower court did. Because K.B. could not collect evidence concerning C.P’s physical condition because she would not participate in an IME, the court decided that C.P. should also be prevented from presenting evidence of her injuries. The court of appeals held that this sanction was reasonable and within the discretion of the judge.

If you are involved in a case where you are requesting an IME or anticipate that an IME will be requested of you, you should consult with a personal injury attorney. While IMEs are allowed in many personal injury cases, the scope of the examination must be limited to injuries relevant to the case and an IME is not an invitation to conduct an invasive examination or probe into an individual’s entire medical history.  Experienced Tennessee auto accident attorney Eric Beasley can help you make sure that you comply with all necessary IME requirements, while also presenting a compelling case for your own injuries. For more information or to discuss the circumstances of your case, contact the Law Office of Eric Beasley today at 615-859-2223.

Related Blog Posts:

Tennessee Court Dismisses Truck Accident Case Where Plaintiff Failed to Preserve Evidence, Tennessee Personal Injury Blog, May 2, 2018.

Tennessee Court Reminds Plaintiffs To Be Wary of Statute of Limitations, Tennessee Personal Injury Blog, January 4, 2018.

Sixth Circuit Overturns Harsh Pleading Standards in Auto Accident Case, Tennessee Personal Injury Blog, December 6, 2016.