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IL disability lawyerSocial Security often tries to justify a denial of disability benefits based on an applicant's purported ability to still perform basic household tasks. For example, a Social Security administrative law judge (ALJ) may reason that since an applicant can still cook for themselves or clean their house despite having a crippling back injury, they must still be capable of working full-time.

Illinois judges have long cautioned Social Security against over-reliance on such “daily living” tasks to disprove disability claims. But there is also the problem of Social Security ignoring evidence regarding an applicant's inability to perform household activities to help prove their claims.

ALJ Failed to Consider Applicant's Difficulties with Daily Living

A recent decision from a federal judge here in Illinois offers a useful example of the latter problem. The plaintiff in this case first applied for disability benefits in 2014, alleging a number of mental impairments, including major depression and post-traumatic stress disorder. After a hearing, a Social Security ALJ rejected the plaintiff's application, holding she could still perform certain jobs despite her limitations.

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IL disability lawyerWe often come across Social Security disability cases where an administrative law judge (ALJ) improperly tries to “play doctor.” In the most serious cases, the ALJ will simply ignore medical evidence outright if it poses a potential hurdle to finding the applicant is not legally disabled. Such actions violate both the letter and the spirit of disability law.

Magistrate: ALJ “Mischaracterized” Evidence Supporting Disability Claim

Fortunately, federal courts are ready and willing to call Social Security out on such behavior. This was the case in a recent decision, Karl B. v. Commissioner, where a magistrate judge said an ALJ “left some evidence out” of their decision because it “corroborated plaintiff's claims” in support of his disability application. The magistrate, therefore, ordered Social Security to conduct a new hearing.

The plaintiff in this case is a man in his early 50s. He previously held a number of jobs as a “car washer, loader, lot driver, sales representative, and sign holder,” according to court records. In his disability application, the plaintiff cited a number of impairments that prevented him from working, notably chronic pain and stomach problems arising from a 2001 armed robbery where he was shot. After an evidentiary hearing, a Social Security ALJ determined the plaintiff was not disabled and denied his application for disability benefits.

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IL disability lawyerAs advanced as medical technology is, it is not perfect. There are many people who suffer physical or mental ailments with no clear cause. Even trained doctors may look at the same patient presenting the same symptoms and reach different conclusions. But how does Social Security deal with such lack of consensus when assessing disability benefit applications.

Magistrate Orders New Disability Hearing After ALJ Failed to Consult Any Medical Experts

As is often the case with Social Security, their first instinct is often to declare the applicant is not disabled. In some situations, a Social Security administrative law judge (ALJ) may simply make guesses about the applicant's actual medical condition. Such an approach is not only unscientific, but it also goes against how the law is supposed to work in this area.

A recent decision from a federal magistrate judge here in Illinois offers a helpful illustration. In this case, a 43-year-old woman applied for disability benefits four years ago. In her application, the plaintiff described a variety of impairments that have rendered her unable to return to full-time work.

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