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Massachusetts Court Explains How Evidence Should be Weighed in Social Security Disability Hearings

If a person is unable to work due to an injury or chronic illness, he or she may be able to seek social security disability benefits. In order to obtain social security disability benefits, a person must be deemed disabled by an administrative law judge. In determining whether a person is disabled, the judge must employ a five-step process, during which any relevant facts and evidence are weighed. As set forth in a recent case decided by the United States District Court for the District of Massachusetts, the judge is required to properly weigh the medical evidence offered by both sides, and the failure to do so can result in a reversal of the judge’s ruling. If you suffer from an impairment that renders you unable to perform meaningful work, you should retain an experienced Massachusetts social security disability attorney to help you seek disability benefits.

Facts Regarding the Plaintiff’s Disabilities

Allegedly, the plaintiff was diagnosed with sickle cell anemia when she was sixteen. She worked as a legal secretary for several years but stopped working for a decade due to her disease. She resumed work as a legal secretary for another ten years and then was self-employed as a French translator and personal care assistant for four years. The plaintiff was then diagnosed with breast cancer, for which she underwent a mastectomy. Following the surgery, she became increasingly fatigued. She was also diagnosed with avascular necrosis of the left shoulder.

It is reported that the plaintiff filed a claim for Social Security Disability benefits, which was denied. She then filed a motion for reconsideration, which was also denied. A hearing was subsequently held by an administrative law judge to determine if the plaintiff was eligible for benefits. During the hearing, letters from two of the plaintiff’s treating physicians were introduced. The letters stated that due to the limitations caused by her chronic health conditions, the plaintiff was unable to work. Conversely, letters from the state agency’s medical consultations stated the plaintiff could resume her work as a legal secretary. The judge ultimately denied the plaintiff’s claim, and the plaintiff appealed.

Weighing Medical Opinions

On appeal, the plaintiff argued, in part, that the administrative judge erred in failing to properly weigh the medical opinions presented as evidence at the hearing. The court noted that an administrative law judge is required to give controlling weight to a claimant’s treating physician’s opinion as to the severity and nature of the claimant’s impairments, as long as the opinion is not inconsistent with the evidence of record. In the subject case, however, the judge gave substantial weight to the opinions of the state agency doctors and accorded the opinions of the plaintiff’s treating physicians very little significance. As the judge did not provide a sufficient justification for disregarding the plaintiff’s treating physicians’ opinions, her ruling was reversed and the case was remanded for further proceedings.

Consult a Trusted Massachusetts Social Security Disability Attorney About Your Case

Chronic medical conditions do not only diminish a person’s quality of life, but they can also affect a person’s ability to earn a living. If you are unable to work due to a physical or mental impairment you should consult a trusted Massachusetts Social Security Disability attorney regarding whether you may be eligible for disability benefits. At Karsner & Meehan our social security disability attorneys will gather evidence in support of your claim and guide you through the process of seeking benefits. You can contact us at 508-822-6600 or through the online form to set up a meeting to discuss your case.