Written by: Luis R. Gracia, Esq.
When it comes to Social Security Disability (and possibly all legal claims in general), there is nothing that places individuals on edge more than the word “trial”. A trial, which can be defined as the process where parties to a dispute come together to present evidence in a tribunal with the authority to adjudicate those disputes, is a serious and important event in the life of any claim. Both plaintiffs and defendants understand this importance. As a result, very few trials take place without attorneys present to represent the interests of their clients. Yet, when it comes to Social Security Disability cases, it is surprising to know that many individuals don’t seek representation from a lawyer when going to their disability hearing.
Social Security Disability hearings are intended to be informal events designed to allow the claimant to tell the judge the reasons why he or she can no longer work. However, many individuals (mistakenly) overlook a hearing because they do not relate it to being a “trial”. Unlike a trial, a hearing doesn’t follow the rules of civil procedure or evidence, is supposed to be non-adversarial and lasts only about 30 minutes to an hour. On the other hand, trials are much more formal, where procedure is strictly followed, and can potentially take months to resolve. Also, parties are typically subjected to examination from attorneys on both sides.
Although a hearing and a trial may seem obviously different, the reality is that when it comes to someone’s Social Security Disability claim, their hearing is really their trial.
Claimants filing for disability benefits often claim that they want their day in “court.” What they don’t realize, though, is that they will get it, albeit in a different way. If you look deeper at the hearing process, you will begin to see how it relates to a court trial:
Before a hearing, claimants will have to first review their file and decide whether their record is complete and accurate. This is because if they fail to point out inaccuracies or incompleteness of exhibits in the record, they may receive a waiver of that issue.
They will be placed under oath.
They may be expected to make an opening statement where they will have to state the theory of their case, i.e., under what basis or authority they claim to be disabled.
They will be subjected to questions from an administrative law judge. Although not often, sometimes judges can ask totally objectionable questions and just like in the case of exhibits, failure to object to the questions can result in a waiver.
They may face vocational experts and/or medical experts and will have the chance to examine or cross-examine them. A claimant’s inability to properly question an expert can be fatal to their claim.
Finally, claimants are many times asked for a closing argument. Not knowing what to argue may leave the record devoid of important issues for appeal.
So, with all of that said, the question is simple: being that Social Security Disability hearings are basically “light” versions of bench trials, why would anyone go to a hearing unrepresented? Considering that the disability process is so long and daunting, it makes sense to be as prepared as possible. A Social Security Disability attorney will make sure that his or her client’s interests are well protected. After all, lawyers representing disabled individuals only get compensated if they secure benefits for their clients.
Don’t make the mistake of trying to go through a hearing alone. Remember the old saying that goes “He who represents himself has a fool for a client”? Well, that is certainly true in Social Security Disability law. Going through the process alone is a risk that you should not bear. You have too much to lose.
If you or a loved one would like to receive more information about Social Security Disability representation, please contact the Volusia County personal injury attorneys at Rue & Ziffra, P.A. for your free consultation today.
The above entry is NOT LEGAL ADVICE and should not be intended or construed as such. It is intended only as general information. No individual reading it should act upon it. Reading this entry does not create any relationship between Rue & Ziffra, P.A. and individuals reading it. If you have questions or concerns, please seek professional legal counsel.
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