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Will Social Security Use My Ignorance of the Law Against Me?

 Posted on December 10, 2018 in Denied Social Security Benefits

Illinois Social Security disability claim lawyerThere is a common misunderstanding with respect to disability insurance. When considering your application for disability benefits, Social Security does not just evaluate whether or not you are medically able to perform your past work. It must decide whether you are capable of performing any type of sustained work. This distinction is often used as reasoning to deny benefits to an applicant.

Judge Orders Social Security to Reconsider Disabled Truck Driver's Claim

An applicant's failure to completely understand the law, however, does not in and of itself justify denying disability benefits. This point was hit home by a recent decision from a federal judge here in Illinois. In this case, King v. Berryhill, the plaintiff previously worked as a truck driver. He stopped working in 2008 due to chronic back pain, for which he did not seek treatment until six years later. In 2014, the plaintiff's treating physician diagnosed him with “severe lumbar degeneration” and several related conditions. 

At a 2016 hearing before a Social Security administrative law judge (ALJ), the plaintiff testified that he continued to suffer from chronic pain, and that therapy and ibuprofen provided only a modest amount of temporary relief. The ALJ nevertheless ruled that the plaintiff did not qualify as legally disabled.

On appeal, the federal judge directed Social Security to conduct a new hearing. The judge identified a number of problems with the ALJ's analysis. In particular, the judge cited the ALJ's assessment of the plaintiff's chronic pain. Among other points, the ALJ noted the plaintiff “did not testify that he was unable to perform all jobs regardless of exertional requirements; he only stated that he could no longer carry out his prior work as a truck driver.” From this, the ALJ said it appeared the plaintiff simply did not understand that Social Security regulations “require him to be unable to perform any sustained work.”

But the judge said if there was a misunderstanding, that was the fault of the ALJ, not the plaintiff. To the contrary, the plaintiff's “understanding of disability law does not determine how his specific claims about his impairment-related symptoms should be evaluated.” It was the ALJ's job to ask the plaintiff for additional information rather than engage in speculation.

The judge was also critical of the ALJ's reliance on evidence of the plaintiff's “activities of daily living” as proof he could still work. Social Security officials often cite such “minimal activities,” such as making breakfast or walking a short distance, as proof that an applicant is not disabled. In this case, the judge said the ALJ “never directly evaluated” the plaintiff's activities or failed to show how they conflicted with his testimony regarding the disabling effects of his chronic pain.

Speak With a Chicago Disability Benefits Attorney Today

Social Security is often quick to use disability applicants' inexperience with the system against them. The best way to counter such tactics is to work with an experienced Cook County Social Security disability lawyer, who can ensure you are well-informed about your rights and responsibilities under the law. Contact Pearson Disability Law, LLC, at 312-999-0999, to schedule a free, no-obligation consultation with a member of our legal team today.



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