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IL disability lawyerThere are multiple different types of conditions that can affect a person’s ability to work and earn an income. Fortunately, Social Security disability benefits can provide much-needed financial assistance in these cases. However, disability claims may be denied for a variety of different reasons. When appealing a denial of disability benefits, a person’s case will be reviewed by an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ). The ALJ may consider multiple different forms of evidence when determining whether a person is disabled, and one issue that they may consider is whether the daily activities a person performs demonstrate that they are or are not disabled.

Magistrate Overturns ALJ’s Decision Based on Improper Consideration of Subjective Symptoms

A recent decision in Illinois courts illustrates the role that a person’s daily activities may play in an ALJ’s determination of whether a person is disabled. In the case of Steven L. v. Saul, the plaintiff was a 49-year-old man who suffered from chronic liver disease, asthma, neuropathy, and affective disorder. While the ALJ found that the plaintiff’s impairments made him incapable of resuming his past work as a neurologist, she ruled that he could work in jobs where he was limited to light work and simple, routine tasks.

The ALJ’s decision was based in part on the plaintiff’s ability to participate in daily activities, specifically noting that the plaintiff stated that he regularly engaged in driving, using a computer, and caring for his children. The ALJ determined that the plaintiff’s ability to participate in these types of activities undermined his claims that he suffered limitations that affected his ability to find or maintain employment.

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IL disability lawyerSocial Security officials will often cite a person's ability to perform certain basic tasks as “proof” they are not entitled to disability benefits. But the whole point of disability is that a person lacks the physical or mental capacity to work full-time, which is not the same thing as, say, being able to use a computer a few minutes a day.

Magistrate: Casual Activities Does Not Prove Disability Applicant Can Sit All Day

A recent Social Security disability case from here in Illinois offers a helpful example of what we are talking about. In this case, the plaintiff applied for Social Security Disability Insurance benefits in 2012. Following a hearing, an administrative law judge (ALJ) denied the application. The plaintiff then asked a federal court to reverse the ALJ's decision and order a new hearing.

In a March 2019 opinion, a federal magistrate granted the plaintiff's request. The magistrate cited a couple of reasons for her decision. Of interest here is one argument raised by Social Security–that the plaintiff was capable of performing “full-time sedentary work” based on the fact he admitted to trading stocks online while supposedly disabled.

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Chicago Social Security Disability LawyersSocial Security Disability cases often turn on agency officials’ subjective views of the applicant’s “credibility.” This is a particular issue when the applicant’s inability to work is due to chronic pain. Put bluntly, Social Security administrative law judges (ALJs) have a history of disregarding complaints of pain as faking or exaggeration on the part of the applicant.

Social Security Chided Again for Equating Life Activities With Employment

The law, however, at least as it is supposed to be applied in Illinois, is that Social Security cannot simply ignore an applicant’s testimony regarding their pain. Nor can Social Security point to evidence the applicant is capable of performing daily “life activities” as conclusive proof that he or she can hold down a physically demanding full-time job.

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