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Can I Challenge the Expert Witness Testifying Against Me in my Social Security Disability Case in Illinois?

| Sep 24, 2020 | Social Security Disability |

When your application for Social Security disability benefits goes to a hearing before an administrative law judge (ALJ), it’s important to recognize in advance what you’ll be up against. You very likely will face an expert witness who will give testimony that you can still work and are not entitled to benefits. Part of succeeding in a scenario like that, then, is being ready to break down the credibility of that expert witness. Doing that is one of the many areas where skilled counsel can be invaluable, so be sure you’ve retained an experienced Chicago Social Security attorney when it comes time to pursue your Social Security disability case.

There are lots of ways in which an expert witness’s opinions can be flawed, providing you with potential avenues of attack. As an example, we can look at the case of A.B., a 40-year-old man with back pain, neck pain and many other conditions that prevented him from performing the health service, construction and food service jobs he used to do. Based on those multiple medical maladies, A.B. applied for Social Security disability benefits.

At the benefits hearing, a vocational expert testified that A.B., even with his significant medical limitations, could still handle three jobs: “callout operator, semiconductor bonder, or registration clerk.” Additionally, according to the expert, A.B. could be a counter clerk if certain lifting, standing and walking restrictions were in place. In total, there were roughly 140,000 jobs available that A.B. could do, according to the vocational expert.

A.B.’s attorney wisely challenged the methodology the expert used. The attorney asked the expert to explain how he arrived at his opinions. The expert explained that his process included a “weighting” element. The attorney properly followed up by asking the expert to explain how he went about weighting the numbers. After the expert gave a convoluted answer, the attorney objected to the expert’s testimony. Basically, the attorney argued that the expert’s processes lacked an adequate foundational and methodological rigor. (This argument is something that a claimant or claimant’s counsel can use to get an expert’s testimony thrown out, thereby strengthening the claimant’s odds of success.)

The expert testifying against you must use ‘cogent’ and ‘thorough’ methods

The 7th Circuit Court of Appeals concluded that A.B.’s objection should have been granted. The Supreme Court has said in the past that vocational experts in Social Security cases must give expert testimony that is based on a “well-accepted methodology.” The expert must explain that methodology “cogently and thoroughly.”

The vocational expert in A.B.’s case offered testimony that was neither “cogent” nor “thorough.” According to the appeals court, it was “unilluminating” and “unintelligible.” It had none of the required “indicia of reliability,” and the ALJ should not have relied on it.

In your Social Security disability case, there are many challenges you must face in order to obtain benefits. Undoing (or at least diminishing) the credibility of the expert witness testifying against you is one of those key challenges. To make sure you are equipped to do that and to overcome all of the challenges associated with your Social Security disability case, count on the experienced Chicago Social Security attorneys at Katz, Friedman, Eisenstein, Johnson, Bareck & Bertuca, who have many years of taking on, and winning, Social Security disability cases for our clients. To set up a free case evaluation, contact us at 312-724-5846 or through our website.