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Does Playing a Few Notes on the Piano Mean I'm Not Disabled?

Posted on in Social Security Disability

Chicago disability benefits lawyer, deny benefits, Social Security disability claims, Social Security disability case, medical impairmentsSocial Security disability claims are frequently denied because—to put it bluntly—agency officials insist the applicant is exaggerating or faking his or her inability to work. Even when presented with clear medical evidence of a person's disability, Social Security administrative law judges (ALJs) will diligently search for any excuse to deny benefits. Sometimes these excuses border on the ridiculous.

Social Security ALJ Rebuked for Making Conclusions Based on No Evidence

Consider a recent Social Security disability case from here in Illinois where an ALJ determined the plaintiff was not disabled because she was able to “play the piano a little bit with her three fingers.”

The plaintiff suffers from a number of serious impairments. As relevant here, she has nerve damage that limits her ability to lift, balance, stoop, kneel, and crouch.

More precisely, the plaintiff's treating physician testified the plaintiff had only “limited” use of her right hand and could not regularly lift or carry more than three pounds. The plaintiff could “never reach, handle, finger, feel, and push/pull with her right hand,” and was only able to do so “occasional” with her left hand.

The ALJ assigned to the case decided to largely disregard these medical conclusions. In fact, the ALJ said the plaintiff was still capable of lifting or carrying objects without serious restrictions, and that she could balance, stoop, kneel, and crouch “frequently,” rather than “occasionally.” Consequently, the ALJ said the plaintiff could still hold down a number of jobs that involve performing “simple repetitive tasks.”

Of course, the ALJ had no medical basis for any of these conclusions, and a federal magistrate judge said as much. In an opinion directing Social Security to conduct a new disability hearing for the plaintiff, the magistrate said there was “no medical evidence, indeed no evidence at all” supporting the ALJ's various deviations from the expert opinions of the plaintiff's doctor.

Perhaps most bizarre was the ALJ's statement, as noted above, that the plaintiff could “play the piano a little bit with her three fingers.” This was based on the testimony of the plaintiff's boyfriend. From this non-expert statement, the ALJ concluded the plaintiff had “continued improvement” in her hand function and “some regained hand fingering, handling, and feeling to occasional use.” But once again, the magistrate said this was not a medical opinion backed by evidence. And “the fact that plaintiff can pluck out a few notes on a piano does not necessarily imply that she has the unfettered ability” to reach or handle objects in the manner required by most workplaces.

Speak With a Cook County Social Security Disability Lawyer Today

Disability cases should be rooted in medical evidence, not the subjective and unfounded opinions of lay Social Security judges. Unfortunately, Social Security often does not see it that way. This is why you need to work with an experienced Chicago disability benefits lawyer who understands how to build and present a credible case based on credible medical testimony. Contact Pearson Disability Law, LLC, at 312-999-0999 if you have applied, or are considering applying for, Social Security Disability Insurance and need assistance.



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