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Hanson v. Colvin: A Critical Look by a Court of Appeals on a Denial of Benefits

In Hanson v. Colvin, an appeal heard in the United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit, the claimant filled for Social Security Disability (SSDI) benefits from the Social Security Administration (SSA) because he was unable to work a full 40-hour week due to acute back pain. The claimant asserted that the back pain would radiate to his leg, making it even more difficult for him to work a full week.

medicaldoctor.jpgAccording to court records, the claimant takes a variety of pain medication, including oxycodone and Percocet that he reports helps with pain but does not eliminate it. The application for SSDI benefits was denied, and the claimant appealed to the U.S. District Court, which affirmed the denial by the SSA. The claimant then appealed to the U.S. Court of Appeals.

As your Boston SSDI attorney can explain, the SSA initially denies the vast majority of all claims. If you have an attorney representing you from the beginning of the process, you have a significantly better chance of obtaining a satisfactory outcome, because a lawyer who regularly handles SSDI understands the process.

In Hanson, the appellate court reasoned that the SSA’s denial of the claim for SSDI benefits, and the District Court’s affirmation of the decision was quite possibly based on incorrect information. The information at was issue related to the opinion of two doctors.

One of the doctors was a neurologist who diagnosed the claimant with radiculopathy, which is known to cause radiating pain. This doctor opined that the claimant could work no more than four hours in a day, due to this condition. If this diagnosis were accepted by the administration, the claimant would be deemed completely disabled under the SSDI program guidelines.

A second doctor who was hired as a consultant only saw the claimant one time and did not treat any of his injuries. He was an orthopedic surgeon and he agreed with the neurologist’s opinion that he plaintiff had radiculopathy, but stated that he could work as long his job did not involve continuous standing and he was able to take frequent breaks.

The administrative law judge (ALJ) who denied the claim thought highly of the consultant hired by the SSA and not very highly of the neurologist. In the opinion, the appellate court was very critical of the ALJ’s findings and the way he in which he dismissed the opinion of the neurologist by claiming that the medical records did not support the doctor’s conclusions. The appellate court even went so far as to note that the ALJ constantly spelled the orthopedic surgeon’s name wrong throughout the opinion.

The court obviously disagreed with the findings of the ALJ and reserved and remanded the case for further proceedings with instructions in the SSA.

This case was an extreme example of the bias that can be shown by an ALJ to doctors who are paid by the SSA to offer opinions at the hearing. While the doctor is there to give his or her unbiased medical opinion, it would interesting to know how often a doctor is hired to consult again if those opinions tend to favor the claimant.

If you are seeking Social Security Disability Insurance in Boston, call for a free and confidential appointment at 1-888-367-2900.

Additional Resources:

Hanson v. Colvin, July 30, 2014, U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit
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SSA to Educate the Public about What it Means to be Disabled, July 18, 2014