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Role of expert witnesses in disability cases challenged

People in West Virginia applying for disability benefits after they are no longer able to work may be concerned about the impact of expert testimony in their cases. The U.S. Supreme Court will be hearing a case that will touch on the level of backup data that vocational experts and others in disability cases are required to provide in order to support their assertions. In particular, the case addresses whether the testimony of an expert is sufficient evidence that jobs are actually available to a disabled worker seeking benefits.

The man who brought the case to the Supreme Court has been in a long-time legal battle for Social Security Disability benefits. A former carpenter and construction laborer, the man stopped working due to the effects of his depression, hepatitis C and degenerative disc disease before applying for benefits in 2009. His case was appealed through a disability hearing, but his application was denied in 2010. After the denial, the man appealed to the federal court system, winning a rehearing.

However, at the rehearing, while his application for disability benefits was approved, it was dated to 2013 rather than his initial application date of 2009. The decision was based on the testimony of a vocational expert who argued that the man was capable of lifting 10 pounds at times and that this meant that jobs were available. When questioned about the evidence to back up that assertion, the expert refused to provide data. The man once again appealed, although his arguments were largely rejected by lower courts.

The Supreme Court's eventual decision on the case could have a significant impact on people's applications for disability benefits and the type of expert testimony that can be involved in these cases. Applicants for benefits might benefit from working with a disability lawyer in order to present their case effectively, including securing their own expert testimony to support the application.

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