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IL disability attorneyWhen you make a Social Security disability claim, multiple different types of medical evidence will be considered to determine whether you qualify to receive benefits. An administrative law judge (ALJ) will consider a number of factors, including whether you have an impairment that is equal or similar to specific impairments described in Social Security regulations and whether you are able to work in your current occupation or perform other types of work. When looking at whether the medical tests you have received support your claim, an ALJ is required to rely on the opinions of medical experts rather than forming their own opinions.

Illinois Court Reverses ALJ’s Decision to Deny Benefits

In some cases, an ALJ may base the decision to deny a disability claim on an improper interpretation of medical tests. This was demonstrated in a recent Illinois case, Paul R. C. v Commissioner of Social Security. The plaintiff, a man in his 50s who had worked as a painter and drywaller, applied for Supplemental Security Income (SSI) based on a number of medical conditions, including arthritis in the knees, torn shoulder muscles, diabetes, carpal tunnel syndrome, and injuries to the lower back. A previous disability claim had been denied because the ALJ concluded that he was capable of a “limited range of light work.”

In the claim in question in this case, the ALJ denied benefits and ruled that the plaintiff was capable of “medium work” that did not involve climbing on ladders or scaffolds, and only occasionally included kneeling, crouching, or crawling. Even though the plaintiff was unable to do the work he had done in the past, the ALJ stated that he would be able to find a job where he could work at the “medium exertional level.”

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Chicago disability lawyerEven when the medical evidence shows a person suffers from multiple–even dozens–of physical or mental impairments, that may still not convince Social Security that a person is entitled to disability benefits. One reason for this is that Social Security administrative law judges (ALJs) will frequently try to minimize or disregard a disability applicant's own description of their pain and other symptoms. Now, an ALJ is allowed to decide how much weight to give such subjective complaints. But the ALJ's findings must ultimately be rooted in the available medical evidence, not some “gut feeling.” That is to say, the ALJ must identify specific inconsistencies between the applicant's complaints and the rest of the evidentiary record.

Magistrate Rejects Social Security's Use of Disability Applicant's Pregnancy, Childcare Responsibilities as Pretext for Denying Benefits

Let's look at a recent Illinois disability case where the ALJ did not do this. In Sylvia C. v. Saul, a Social Security ALJ rejected a 41-year-old woman's application for benefits. There was no question the plaintiff had medical issues: The ALJ identified no fewer than 16 physical and mental impairments–included 9 “severe” conditions–based on the plaintiff's medical records. Nevertheless, the ALJ said the plaintiff did not meet the legal qualifications for disability.

A key reason was that the ALJ found the plaintiff's “statements concerning the intensity, persistence and limiting effects of [her] symptoms [were] not entirely consistent with the medical evidence and other evidence in the record.” On appeal, a federal magistrate judge disagreed. The magistrate said it was the ALJ's conclusions that were not adequately supported by the record. While the magistrate did not find the plaintiff was entitled to disability benefits, the court did order the ALJ to conduct a new hearing.

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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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