Should You Ever Refuse Emergency Medical Treatment After an Accident?

With nearly 264 million registered vehicles and 218 million drivers on American roads, it’s no wonder that the United States is considered to be one of the busiest countries in terms of traffic. Often, the more traffic there is, the more likely it is that car crashes will occur. And although motor vehicle crash fatalities have generally decreased over the last decade, these collisions killed more than 35,000 people in 2015. Even more striking is the fact that approximately 2.35 million people are injured in car accidents during the average year.

When you become injured in a crash and another driver’s negligence is to blame, it’s typically recommended that you consult with a personal injury attorney to assess whether it may be appropriate to file a claim against the responsible party. But before you make that call, the first step is usually to seek out medical treatment immediately following your accident. Despite the fact that Americans spend more than 1 million days in the hospital every year due to car crash injuries, not every motorist takes the important step of obtaining medical attention after a collision. Unfortunately, that’s often a mistake that can derail your ability to heal (and to file a claim) in the aftermath of a crash.

Should you ever refuse emergency medical treatment after an accident?

The short answer is no. When you’re involved in a crash, your body will release a chemical called adrenaline. It’s our “fight or flight” hormone that will change everything from how fast your heart beats to how dilated your pupils are. The body naturally floods the bloodstream with adrenaline in order to help you deal with something dangerous or scary. In many ways, it’s helpful because it can give you the strength to power through something that seems impossible.

But it can also make you think you’re in better shape than you really are. In fact, adrenaline can block your ability to feel pain. Stress-induced analgesia occurs so that you can deal with the more frightening situation without being held back by your physical pain. In the context of a car accident, a motorist may fail to realize the extent of their injuries due to the adrenaline rush. He or she may be literally unable to feel the pain stemming from injuries sustained, which may cause that individual to think that he or she is completely fine. This can result in a refusal of medical attention at the scene of the accident. It’s not until much later, when the adrenaline starts to wear off, that it may become apparent that the crash caused much more extensive injuries than the motorist realized.

What’s more, some car crash injuries may not present physical symptoms until days, weeks, or even months afterwards. There are many latent injuries, like whiplash or concussions, that may not be obvious to the individual until well after the accident has occurred. But because medical professionals at a given Emergency Department, doctor’s office, or specialist facility are trained to recognize the signs of these injuries, seeking out immediate treatment can often allow for a quicker diagnosis and a smoother recovery.

Not only will pursuing medical treatment right away result in quicker healing, but it can also play an essential role in your ability to file an insurance claim or personal injury suit. Having your injuries and your treatment documented right away can strengthen your case later on. If you refuse this treatment or declare that you’re not injured at the scene, it can make it much more difficult for you and your lawyer to prove that this accident caused you harm. While it may not be impossible to receive compensation for your injuries, your refusal to receive medical attention can be a major obstacle for your cause. The longer you wait, the more challenging it will be to provide evidence that the other driver’s actions were responsible for your causing your injuries.

Some motorists will refuse medical treatment on the basis that they won’t be able to afford care due to lack of health insurance coverage. Keep in mind that your auto insurance policy may actually cover some medical expenses and that the auto coverage of the driver responsible for your injuries may also help with treatment expenses. It’s certainly true that hospital treatment will likely cost much more, though it may be truly necessary in many cases. If you are unable to seek emergency treatment after an accident, it’s essential that you see a doctor as soon as humanly possible. This can help to establish a record of treatment and ensure that your injuries are tended to quickly. Delaying or forgoing treatment after an accident due to costs is understandable, especially when you aren’t able to think clearly. However, this can end up making your injuries worse, subsequently increasing costs of treatment or wages lost, and make it that much more difficult to prove your eventual claim.

In the end, it’s clear that you should not refuse medical treatment following an accident. You might be tempted to do so, due to your level of adrenaline or your fear of treatment costs. But it’s much better to be safe than sorry. And if you don’t seek out medical care, even after a relatively minor accident, you may be very sorry indeed.