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Social Security Cannot Ignore “Subjective Complaints” About Back Pain

 Posted on November 15, 2018 in Denied Social Security Benefits

Chicago social security disability appeal lawyerSocial Security officials often try to discredit or discount the expert opinions of a disability applicant's treating physicians. In many cases, a Social Security administrative law judge (ALJ)–who is not a doctor–will attempt to substitute their own judgment for that of the medical professionals. Such actions are inconsistent with Social Security's own regulations and can lead to significant problems for the agency if a rejected applicant seeks judicial review in the courts. 

Federal Appeals Court Orders SSA to Reconsider Disability Applicant's Case

For example, the U.S. Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals here in Chicago recently ordered Social Security to conduct a new hearing in the case of a disability applicant who was previously denied benefits. The main problem identified by the appeals court was the ALJ's failure to properly explain her reasons for largely ignoring the medical testimony of the plaintiff's treating physicians. Although the Court did not rule that the plaintiff was legally disabled, it did hold that Social Security owed him a better explanation for denying his application.

Here is briefly what happened: the plaintiff is a former maintenance mechanic who is now in his mid-50s. He underwent two spinal surgeries in 2005 and 2006 but continues to suffer from chronic back pain. For this reason, he initially applied for Social Security disability benefits in 2012. At a subsequent hearing on the application before a Social Security ALJ, the plaintiff presented expert evidence from his primary care doctor and neurosurgeon, who both agreed that he was medically “unable to work” in his former job due to his ongoing back pain. The neurosurgeon further explained that the plaintiff was limited to “sedentary work.”

The ALJ rejected the two doctors' views, however, alleging that their conclusions were “inconsistent” with their treatment notes. The ALJ also criticized the doctors for relying on the plaintiff's “subjective complaints” of pain instead of “objective findings.” Accordingly, the ALJ denied the plaintiff's application for disability benefits.

The Seventh Circuit said that it was the ALJ who erred, however, noting that the views of a disability applicant's treating physician “generally is entitled to controlling weight if it is consistent with the record, and it cannot be rejected without a sound explanation.” Here, the ALJ did not provide a sound explanation. To the contrary, the Seventh Circuit said the ALJ's only explanation was that the neurosurgeon's treatment notes “reflected essentially normal physical exams,” but it was “not clear from her discussion what exams she is relying on to make that determination.” The neurosurgeon did say the plaintiff was able to walk without a limp and had normal motor and reflex skills. However, none of this undermined the plaintiff's disability claim, which centered on his back pain.

Speak With a Chicago Social Security Disability Lawyer Today

Social Security has a legal obligation to properly review and consider any medical evidence of an individual's disability. An experienced Cook County disability benefits lawyer can help ensure that Social Security takes this responsibility seriously with respect to your case. Contact Pearson Disability Law, LLC at 312-999-0999 to arrange a free consultation.




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