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Disability expert testimony before U.S. Supreme Court

Expert testimony can play a vital role in determining whether a person is eligible for Social Security Disability benefits. In fact, the US Supreme Court agreed to rule on an appeal involving these witnesses. At issue is whether vocational expert testimony, without complying for a request for supporting information, is sufficient evidence that other jobs were available to an injured worker.

This case involves an applicant who worked in construction as a carpenter and laborer. He received training as a bricklayer and carpenter and completed one year of college. In 2005, he quit working and claimed that he suffered from degenerative disc disease, Hepatitis C and depression.

The Social Security Administration denied benefits and his appeals in 2010. A federal district court, however, ordered SSA to hold another hearing because the administrative law judge did not obtain medical expert testimony.

After a second hearing, an ALJ found that this applicant was disabled as of his 50th birthday in 2013 but denied benefits for the period before his birthday. The district court and appeals court affirmed this ruling. The appeals court in Cincinnati ruled that the vocational expert sufficiently testified, in response to a question posed by an ALJ, that the claimant was able to lift 10 pounds of weight.

In seeking Supreme Court review, the applicant argued that the SSA erroneously rejected his request for disability benefits going back to 2009. He claimed that the vocational expert witness refused the claimant's request to disclose data supporting his opinion that the claimant could squat and lift objects that weighed up to 10 pounds. Federal appellate courts across the country have ruled differently on this issue.

The Supreme Court agreed to hear the appeal late last month. It will specifically decide whether a vocation expert's testimony is substantial evidence that other work was available to disability applicants if they do not comply with a request to provide supporting information. It will hold oral argument this fall.

An attorney can assist applicants with a qualifying disability apply for SSI benefits and, when necessary, file disability appeals. Experienced lawyers can help assure that sufficient evidence is presented to SSA and that an applicant can meet ever-tightening eligibility requirements.

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