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The Role of the “Hypothetical Question” in Disability Cases

Posted on in Denied Social Security Benefits

IL disability attorneyA key part of any Social Security disability hearing occurs when an administrative law judge (ALJ) poses one or more “hypothetical questions” to a vocational expert. These questions are designed to help the ALJ determine what kind of jobs the applicant for disability benefits may still be able to perform in spite of their physical or mental impairments. The applicant has the right to cross-examine the VE regarding these hypothetical questions, as well as ask the ALJ to incorporate certain information when formulating the questions in the first place.

Seventh Circuit Rejects Disability Applicant's Appeal of Fourth Social Security Denial

But the mere fact an applicant disagrees with the ALJ's hypothetical question does not, in and of itself, mean the question was invalid. A recent decision from the U.S. Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals here in Chicago, Saunders v. Saul, offers a helpful illustration of this point.

In this case, a Wisconsin man applied for Social Security disability benefits in 2005. Over the intervening 14 years, there have been at least four separate hearings on the plaintiff's application, all of which ended with an ALJ ruling he did not qualify as legally disabled.

At the plaintiff's fourth hearing, the ALJ heard expert testimony from a doctor who said the plaintiff was “limited to simple, repetitive tasks with up to four-step instructions in a habituated setting; no tasks requiring problem-solving or emotionally charged interactions with others.” Based on this information, the ALJ posed a hypothetical question to the VE, who said someone with these limitations “could work as a laundry worker, a router, or a sweeper.” Accordingly, the ALJ again denied the plaintiff's application.

Before the Seventh Circuit, the plaintiff argued the medical expert's opinion was “not supported by substantial evidence” and that the hypothetical question “failed to account for [the plaintiff's] moderate limitations in concentration, pace, or persistence.”

The appeals court disagreed. With respect to the first argument, the Seventh Circuit explained the ALJ was entitled to rely on the doctor's medical assessment of the plaintiff's limitations, particularly since the plaintiff did not “say what evidence the ALJ should have relied on or why it undermines [the expert's] testimony.”

Similarly, the judges rejected the plaintiff's second argument, as he “never once has told this court what other restrictions the ALJ should have included in her hypothetical, nor even at oral argument could he suggest a better way to capture the idea behind limitations in concentration, persistence, and pace and apply those problems to job requirements.”

Speak with an Illinois Social Security Disability Attorney Today

Dealing with Social Security is often frustrating. Even when you know you are physically or mentally unable to work, proving that to the government's satisfaction can seem like an impossible task. That is why it is important to work with an experienced Chicago disability benefits lawyer who can assist you in preparing and presenting the strongest case possible to an ALJ. Contact Pearson Disability Law, LLC, at 312-999-0999 to schedule a free initial consultation with a qualified Social Security lawyer today.




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