One of the first things I learned as a young lawyer was that information was an important commodity in any litigated case. Prior to focusing on workers’ compensation cases, I did a lot of work in general liability, products liability, and municipal tort claims. I soon found out that as soon as we could identify any doctor treating the claimant for any reason, we would subpoena those records.
After my practice became more focused on workers’ compensation, I learned the importance of making sure that we have as complete a medical profile on the claimant as possible. Too often, claimants give you limited descriptions of their injuries and treatment, and are extremely vague about pre-existing condition and prior injuries. Recently, I was involved in a case where buried deep in claimant’s treating physicians’ records, I found reference to a claimant’s family doctor who had been treating the claimant for many years prior to the work injury. There was no specific information, simply the doctor’s name and address. The claimant could not recall the name of her treating physician when we took her testimony, nor did she recall having any prior medical treatment to the same areas affected by the alleged work injury. I was able to track down the physician and subpoena his records. Not surprisingly, there was a wealth of information contained in those records, including the significant past history of treatment that the claimant had undergone with the family physician for the same body part. There were numerous notations to complaints of pain and limitations and activity and the family practitioner had been providing pain medication and had even recommended that the claimant see other medical specialists to follow up with her alleged condition. The claimant’s medical expert was unaware of this information and I was able to utilize it successfully to cross-examine the claimant’s doctor when I took his deposition.
The lesson learned here is that obtaining medical records must be a priority in every litigated claim. This needs to be done not only in conjunction with the litigation, but also in any basic investigation of a new claim file. Obtaining an authorization for the release of medical records and following up with the identity of the claimant’s family physician, as well as all doctors that have treated the claimant for several years prior to the injury will help you better assess the medical component of the claim and determine its ultimate compensability. Even speaking with the claimant, or obtaining a recorded statement where those types of question are asked of the claimant can be helpful. Not only can it impact on the medical component of the claim, but also affect the claimant’s overall credibility where they deny they have been treating for any similar medical condition, yet records establish that they have treated for the condition for several years. Always obtain as much medical information as possible on the claimant. You never know what you will find in those records.