If you are injured on a cruise ship, part of the burden in proving your case is showing you have sustained an injury, and proving the nature, severity, and permanency of your injuries. If you have sustained a major injury—for example, one that requires surgery—that may sound like an easy burden. But despite how obvious your injuries may be, the law allows a defendant cruise line to force you to attend what is known as an Independent Medical Examination, or IME. An experienced Florida cruise ship attorney can help you understand the process.
What is an IME?
An IME is a medical examination that an injured person is compelled to attend while their case is pending. Although the name may imply that the examination is “independent,” in most cases, the physicians are hired and paid by the cruise line, and may even receive significant money from the cruise through repeated referrals of injured passengers. IMEs are fairly routine, and are used by defendants in all kinds of cases.
Compelling an injured passenger to see a doctor chosen by the cruise line is inherently invasive, even though the doctor will not perform invasive tests on an injured passenger. A full medical history will be taken, as well as any non-invasive medical procedures that can be performed in the office. There is no doctor-patient privilege as there is with your own doctor. After your exam, the IME doctor will make a report, and if favorable to the cruise line, the doctor will likely be used as a witness against you to demonstrate that your injuries are not as permanent or severe as you are claiming.
In state court, many injured parties have tried to even the playing field by allowing their attorneys to attend the IME, or else by having the examination videotaped. These methods are meant to keep the physician “honest”—that is, to make sure his report matches what was actually said and observed in the examination–and to prevent “he said-she said” conflicts between the injured passenger and the doctor.
Federal Laws Do Not Allow an Attorney to Be Present
But federal maritime laws are much different that state, and a federal court recently ruled in Davanzo v. Carnival Cruise Lines 2014 WL 1385729 (S.D.Fla.,2014) that unlike with state law, federal laws do not allow an injured person’s own attorney to be present, nor can an attorney videotape the IME. The court did allow for audio taping of certain parts of the exam. And, the court did say that an injured passenger has the right to have a spouse (and presumably other family members that may provide support or comfort) present at the IME.
The restrictions on attorneys or videotaping are reason to be prepared if you are compelled to attend an IME. You can prepare yourself by speaking with your attorney before the examination about what to expect and how to deal with unanticipated events at your IME. If you need help preparing, contact the Florida cruise ship accident attorneys at Gerson & Schwartz, P.A. immediately for assistance.