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Will Social Security Ignore the Opinions of My Surgeon in Assessing My Disability Claim?

 Posted on September 27, 2019 in Social Security Disability Medical Conditions

IL disability lawyerYou would think in assessing an application for disability benefits, Social Security would give greater weight to the opinions of a specialist who actually treated the applicant over rather than a less-qualified doctor who only performed a casual examination. But the reality is Social Security administrative law judges (ALJs) often prefer whatever testimony supports a finding the applicant is not disabled.

Magistrate Orders New Hearing After ALJ Credits Opinions of Family Doctor Over Orthopedic Surgeon

A recent decision from a federal magistrate judge here in Illinois, Cheryl G. v. Saul, helps to illustrate this problem. The plaintiff in this case previously worked as a legal secretary and school bus driver. But she has been unable to work in any capacity since 2010 as the result of a severe ankle injury that required multiple surgeries.

In fact, the plaintiff has had surgeries performed on her since 2010. One of the plaintiff's surgeons testified about her job prospects during a deposition in connection with the plaintiff's efforts to obtain workers' compensation benefits. In this deposition, the surgeon said the plaintiff "could have probably done some kind of sedentary duty if such an occupation existed in a bus driving facility." But she was unable to drive and would require "substantial breaks or half days to allow her to function." And due to the nature of the plaintiff's injuries, the surgeon said she could not sit for prolonged periods of time.

The surgeon's deposition was submitted as part of the plaintiff's case for disability benefits. The ALJ overseeing the case chose to disregard the surgeon's conclusions, however, in favor of an "independent medical examination" performed by a family doctor. The family doctor found the plaintiff could not perform "labor-intensive work," but could perform a job that required her to "sit, perform fine and gross movements of both hands and communicate."

The ALJ ultimately denied the plaintiff's application for disability benefits. The magistrate ordered a new hearing, holding the ALJ failed to give any good reason for ignoring the opinions of the plaintiff's surgeon. In contrast to the surgeon's extensive treatment history of the plaintiff, the family doctor only examined the plaintiff a single time before she underwent two of her six surgeries.

Additionally, the magistrate noted the family doctor's assessment did not support a finding the plaintiff could still work. The ALJ assumed the plaintiff "had the ability to sit for six hours in an eight hour workday." Yet the family doctor never offered a specific assessment on this point. And this conclusion directly conflicted with the treating surgeon's specific finding the plaintiff could not sit for prolonged periods of time during the day.

Speak with a Chicago Social Security Benefits Attorney Today

Even when you think the medical evidence clearly supports a finding you are legally disabled, Social Security will often still find a way to try and deny benefits. This is why it is so important to work with an experienced Chicago Social Security disability lawyer who can help you in presenting your case and, if necessary, filing an appeal. Contact Pearson Disability Law, LLC, at 312-999-0999 today to schedule a free consultation.




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