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Does Performing Farm Chores Prove That Someone Is Not Disabled?

Posted on in Social Security Disability

IL disability lawyerMany people are forced to apply for disability benefits because they are unable to work due to chronic pain. Unfortunately, Social Security officials are often quick to dismiss such complaints, even when supported by medical evidence. Some administrative law judges (ALJ) seem to think that applicants are exaggerating or fabricating their complaints of pain. This often leads ALJs to selectively cherry-pick information that they think will support denying an application for benefits.

Seventh Circuit Orders New Disability Hearing After ALJ Disregards Key Medical Evidence

But at the end of the day, Social Security must follow the law. A recent decision from the U.S. Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals here in Chicago, Reinaas v. Saul, provides a cautionary example. This case involves a man (the plaintiff) in his mid-50s who lives on a small farm in Wisconsin. The plaintiff previously worked as a factory machine operator. While on the job, he seriously injures his spine and rotator cuff. Following multiple surgeries, he was able to return to work for a time but continued to experience headaches and significant pain in his neck and shoulder.

The physician who treated the plaintiff in connection with his workers' compensation claim eventually determined that the plaintiff could no longer work. The treating physician told Social Security that the plaintiff “had spinal disorders and nerve root compression that were presumptively disabling and that he suffered from two or more severe migraines per month despite prescribed treatment.” At a hearing, the plaintiff himself told the ALJ that his head movements were “limited” and that he suffered from migraines approximately 10 to 15 times per month.

The ALJ nevertheless concluded the plaintiff was not disabled and denied his application for benefits. The ALJ chose to give “little weight” to the treating physician's opinion, ostensibly because the doctor had no “knowledge of Social Security disability rules and regulations.” As for the plaintiff's ongoing pain, the ALJ found the plaintiff's “subjective complaints” were not “credible,” as they were inconsistent with his ability to continue performing work around his farm.

The Seventh Circuit rejected the ALJ's analysis on both counts. First, the appeals court noted that under the Social Security regulations applicable to the plaintiff's claim, the treating physician's “opinion is entitled to controlling weight if it is supported by sound medical evidence and a consistent record.” Here, the record did support the treating doctor's conclusions. Yet the ALJ improperly “overlooked entire swaths” of medical evidence in deciding to reject those conclusions.

Second, the ALJ “did not properly assess the intensity and limiting effects of [the plaintiff's] subjective symptoms.” The ALJ largely ignored the plaintiff's testimony regarding his frequent migraines. And while the plaintiff was able to continue performing chores on his farm, the Seventh Circuit said these were essentially “routine acts of daily living” that did not necessarily mean the plaintiff “would be able to work full time.” For these reasons, the appeals court said the plaintiff was entitled to a new disability hearing.

Speak with an Illinois Social Security Disability Attorney Today

Ideally, Social Security would follow its own regulations in properly assessing a disability applicant's claim. But we do not live in an ideal world. If you are applying for disability benefits and need representation from a qualified Chicago Social Security lawyer, contact Pearson Disability Law, LLC, today at 312-999-0999 to schedule a free consultation.




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