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Experts' role in disability cases in question

When people in California apply for Social Security Disability benefits, they may sometimes feel as if they are facing a difficult and even uncaring bureaucracy. The process of application and appeals can be challenging, particularly for people who are already struggling due to the effects of their disabilities. Expert testimony can play a significant role in a case with both positive and negative effects, and now the U.S. Supreme Court will hear a case that could potentially require expert witnesses to back up their assertions with data and documented evidence.

The case was accepted by the Supreme Court after a string of lower-level appeals by a man whose eventual approval for disability benefits was dated to four years after his original application. The man, who worked as a construction laborer and carpenter before leaving work due to complications from degenerative disc disease, hepatitis C and depression, applied for disability benefits in 2009. After an initial denial affirmed at a disability hearing, he appealed to federal district court, which returned his case for further processing based on a lack of medical evidence.

In the new hearing following his appeal, the man was awarded disability benefits dating to his 50th birthday in 2013. Once again, he appealed to the federal court system, this time raising the concern that a vocational expert who testified in the case refused to provide supporting data for her assertions that he could lift up to 10 pounds at times and that jobs would be available for him. While other courts affirmed the decision, the Supreme Court will now hear arguments on the issue.

The role of expert testimony can be complex in a disability hearing for people seeking Social Security Disability benefits. A disability lawyer may be able to help applicants to make the strongest case possible, including gathering relevant evidence like medical records and expert testimony in support of the applicant.

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