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Supreme Court to rule on disability case testimony

People applying for Social Security Disability benefits in California may be concerned about the role of expert witnesses in their cases, especially when an expert is providing testimony about an individual's abilities to work. This can be problematic when the experts in question have had little direct involvement or observation of the applicant's life and work experiences. In one case, an ongoing legal battle over this issue will head to the U.S. Supreme Court to determine the value of expert testimony that is not backed up by supporting data in a disability case.

In the case that the Supreme Court accepted in June 2018, a man applied for disability benefits in 2009 after previously working as a carpenter and construction laborer. His application for benefits was denied in 2010 at the initial application stage and then at the appeals stage. After being denied in a hearing, he appealed to the district court, which sent the case back to the Social Security Administration for further proceedings. In a new hearing, he received disability benefits but with an onset date of 2013 rather than 2009.

The man appealed the decision, but it was upheld in multiple courts, which affirmed that the judge's decision was based on evidence, including the testimony of a vocational expert in the case who said that the man could sometimes lift weights of up to 10 pounds. Despite being challenged, the expert did not produce data backing up the claim. The Supreme Court will now rule on whether this type of testimony is sufficient in disability cases.

When people applying for Social Security Disability go before an administrative law judge at the hearing stage, it can be important to have representation. A disability lawyer may work with their clients to present cases with relevant testimony, expert witnesses and medical records to bolster their claims for benefits.

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