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A Federal Court in Illinois Reverses a Denial of Social Security Disability Benefits Based on the Time the Worker Would Be ‘Off-Task’

| Jul 28, 2021 | Social Security Disability |

Statistics show that most Social Security Disability claims are rejected at first. In fact, most are rejected at each of the first two levels. A rejection does not, however, mean that you do not have a valid claim. With the help of a skilled Chicago Social Security Disability attorney, you can overcome these initial rejections and get the approval you need to get the benefits you deserve.

O.O.’s Disability case was an example of this kind of multi-step process. He was a man in his 30s who had worked as a cook, a server, and a barista but had ceased performing those jobs due to his Crohn’s disease. He applied for Disability benefits, but the administrative law judge who heard his case concluded he was not eligible.

A federal judge reversed that decision. The reason for the man’s success lay in the evidence that he presented and how it should have been applied to determine his Residual Functioning Capacity” or RFC, which is something that details all of the limitations you have due to your health condition and how those limitations impact your ability to work.

Crohn’s disease is a gastrointestinal condition that can cause sufferers to experience fatigue and recurring bouts of dizziness. The RFC in O.O.’s case accounted for those problems by stating that the man could not perform jobs that involved climbing ladders, ropes, or scaffolds.

However, O.O. had more than just evidence of fatigue and dizziness. He also presented proof that he experienced recurring Crohn’s disease “flares,” which are periods when the person experiences exacerbation of bowel problems. For people like O.O., a Crohn’s flare meant “severe pain and need[ing] to use the bathroom eight or more times per day unpredictably, often with little warning.”

The applicant’s evidence did not explicitly state the total amount of time that these multiple bathroom breaks would take but the court concluded that he didn’t necessarily need to.

Doing the Math Favored the Applicant

The court employed some basic arithmetic to reach its conclusion. The vocational expert who testified at O.O.’s hearing stated that there would be no jobs for a person like O.O. if that worker was “off-task” 15% or more of the workday. In an eight-hour workday, 15% of the day represents 72 minutes. If during his Crohn’s flares, O.O. required eight bathroom breaks in a day and those breaks averaged nine minutes each, then that would be 72 minutes in total or 15% of the workday. If O.O.’s flare triggered more than eight breaks in a day, then the average bathroom trip need only be eight minutes or perhaps even less. Given that many Crohn’s sufferers experience painful diarrhea during their flares, it is fairly clear that walking to the bathroom, toileting, washing up, and returning to work might often take more than nine minutes.

Based on those realities and the evidence presented, the administrative law judge made a crucial error when she failed to determine what amount of break time O.O. would need and how much of the day he would be “off-task,” so O.O. was entitled to a reversal of the rejection of his claim.

If you believe you have a condition that entitles you to receive Social Security Disability benefits, take the time to reach out to the knowledgeable Chicago Social Security Disability attorneys at Katz, Friedman, Eisenstein, Johnson, Bareck & Bertuca to talk about your situation. Our team has many years of experience helping applicants and we only charge if we win your case. To set up a free case evaluation, contact us at 312-724-5846 or through our website.