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What Happens When Social Security Officials Ask the Wrong “Hypothetical” Questions?

Posted on in Denied Social Security Benefits

IL disability lawyerA key part of the disability application benefits process is when Social Security asks a vocational expert to answer a “hypothetical” question designed to ascertain what potential jobs, if any, exist in the marketplace for a person with certain physical or mental limitations. Remember, it is not enough to prove you have a disability. Social Security also needs to figure out whether your disability–or a combination of disabilities–makes it impossible for you to find meaningful work. The hypothetical question is supposed to help determine the answer.

Seventh Circuit Orders New Hearing for Disability Applicant

But this assumes Social Security asks the right hypothetical question, to begin with. For example, the U.S. Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals here in Chicago recently ordered Social Security to conduct a new disability hearing for a plaintiff after determining an administrative law judge (ALJ) asked an “incomplete” hypothetical question. This error alone was sufficient, the court said, to justify reconsideration of the plaintiff's application for disability benefits.

The plaintiff applied for disability, citing a number of impairments, including depression, attention deficit disorder, fibromyalgia, and degenerative disc disease. Much of the plaintiff's impairments stemmed from a 2007 slip-and-fall accident. Following this accident, the Seventh Circuit noted, the plaintiff could “no longer live the active life she had before her fall.” Even seven years after the fall, the plaintiff could not sit or stand for more than 30 minutes at any one time. By that point, she had already filed an application for Social Security disability insurance benefits.

At a hearing on this application, a Social Security administrative law judge (ALJ) questioned a vocational expert about the plaintiff's hypothetical capacity to find work. More precisely, the ALJ asked the expert “about job prospects for a person with [the plaintiff's] background who could perform light work consisting of 'simple, work-related decisions' with 'few, if any, workplace changes.” Based on these parameters, the expert replied there were approximately 2.3 million jobs available nationwide as a “mail clerk, ticket taker, or retail sales attendant” the hypothetical person could perform.

The Seventh Circuit said the ALJ's question was insufficient. It did not include any “restrictions in concentration, persistence, or pace,” all of which were limitations the ALK “acknowledged” the plaintiff suffered from to some degree. For instance, although the ALJ asked about a hypothetical person's ability to perform “simple, work-related decisions,” the question did not go further to inquire about someone's ability to “execute that simple task over an extended time.” The plaintiff's own doctors noted this was a limitation that existed, and therefore the ALJ had a legal duty to ask about it when posing the hypothetical question to the vocational expert.

Speak with a Cook County Disability Benefits Lawyer Today

Social Security frequently fails to follow its own rules when considering disability applications. That is why you should always work with an experienced Chicago Social Security attorney when pursuing disability benefits. If you need assistance, contact Pearson Disability Law LLC at 312-999-0999 to schedule a free consultation with a member of our team today.




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