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Carpal Tunnel Syndrome, Thenar Wasting, and Disability Benefits

 Posted on September 06, 2019 in Denied Social Security Benefits

IL disability lawyerDecisions regarding Social Security disability applications are supposed to be based on medical evidence. That is, your treating doctor's medical conclusions are normally expected to be given great weight by a Social Security administrative law judge (ALJ). But in far too many cases, we find the ALJ taking it upon themselves to “play doctor” and ignore or discount the treating physician's views.

Magistrate: Social Security “Mischaracterized” Surgeon's Findings in Denying Disability Application

In some cases, an ALJ may outright misrepresent what the treating physician found. This is not okay. To the contrary, it violates Social Security regulations and entitles an unsuccessful applicant to a new hearing on their claim.

This is precisely what happened to one Illinois disability benefits applicant in a recent case, Lisa AB v. Commissioner of Social Security. The plaintiff in this case has not worked since 2012 because of her inability to use her hands. The plaintiff had a history of severe carpal tunnel syndrome that required surgery.

As relevant here, the plaintiff's orthopedic surgeon found that despite the surgery, there was still evidence of “moderate thenar wasting.” In layperson's terms, the plaintiff suffers from atrophy of her thumb muscles, which prevented her from using her hands to perform basic tasks like lifting or pulling.

Despite this finding, the ALJ said the plaintiff was not legally disabled. The ALJ cited the report of another doctor–who examined but did not treat the plaintiff–who found there was “no muscle atrophy.”

The plaintiff challenged the ALJ's decision in court. A federal magistrate judge agreed with the plaintiff the ALJ acted improperly. Notably, the magistrate said the ALJ “ignored” the treating orthopedic surgeon's findings of atrophy without explanation. The ALJ also “mischaracterized” other aspects of the surgeon's treatment notes. And taken as a whole, the notes supported the plaintiff's claim that “she continues to have numbness and difficulty using her hands even after the carpal tunnel surgery.”

In an attempt to save the ALJ's ruling, the Social Security Administration argued before the magistrate that the surgeon's diagnosis of thenar wasting was “insignificant” because he “did not repeat the findings” during a follow-up examination of the plaintiff. Nor did the surgeon “assign any limitation to the plaintiff” based on this finding. But given the ALJ himself did not make such findings, the magistrate said Social Security could not justify his decision based upon such “after-the-fact rationalization.”

While the magistrate did not order Social Security to find the plaintiff is disabled, he did note that the plaintiff's “ability to use her hands is a crucial issue in this case.” The ALJ must, therefore, hold a new hearing and properly address all of the relevant medical evidence on this point.

Speak with a Cook County Social Security Disability Attorney Today

Social Security is good at making excuses for the mistakes of its administrative law judges. The best way to ensure they do not get away with this is to work with an experienced Chicago disability benefits lawyer. If you need help dealing with Social Security, contact Pearson Disability Law, LLC, at 312-999-0999 today to schedule a free consultation.




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