Why the Judge May or May Not Believe Your Doctor OR Why a Checklist, Completed Form, or Letter from
James J. Batson, Sr., v. Commissioner of the Social Security Administration, United States Court of Appeals, Ninth Circuit, No. 02-35471, Opinion Filed March 9, 2004
Note: There is a minor but probably more interesting part of this case that deals with watching television equating being able to work. I'll discuss that in another post though.
James Battson suffered from cervical degenerative disease. He underwent cervical surgery in an attempt to releive his symptoms. At first he thought the surgery was successful but eventually the pain and symptoms reappeated. He applied for disability claiming he could not work due to upper and lower back injuries. He was denied at the field office level, upon reconsideration, and after an appeal hearing in front of the Judge.
The Judge denied his claim in large part because he gave the views of his treating phsyicians "little evidentiary weight." The Judge did this because evidence in the record from other healthcare professionals that treated or examined Mr. Battson contradicted the evidence from his treating physicians. In addition the Judge said that Mr. Battson's own testimony contradicted the views of his treating physicians.
The Judge said that the treating physicains view in the form of a checklist did not have supportive objective evidence or substantive medical findings. This basically means there were no tests that showed major or significant medical issues. Typical in these types of cases are X-Rays and MRI's. The Judge also said that the opinions of another doctor retained for workers compensation issues and a physical therapist did not back up the checklist from the treating physicians. This included the one doctor noting that Mr. Battson had no problem taking off his shirt and that his calloused hands and dirt under his fingernails indicated he could do substantial physical activity. The same doctor also said that the only proof of Mr. Batsons pain was Mr. Batson's own testimony. And a physical therapist's view also indicated Mr. Batson could work.
The law basically says that when there is contradicting evidence and an inferrence could be made either way on that evidence the Judge makes the final call and an Appeals Court won't touch it. This is even the case with a treating physican, as opposed to one who just examines you, whose opinion in general is suppose to be given more weight.
So what are the take-aways from here? You need an Attorney sooner rather than later to start obtaining and reviewing all of your medical documents. This way if additional or more recent testing is needed or more specific documentation is needed from one of your health care providers we can work with them in getting it. Obviously we can't, and won't, tell them what to do or what to say in your records. We can though work with you and them to legitimately strengthen your records and explore any possible inconsistencies that we would have to address and overcome in Court.