Claimant: 52 year old male
Past work: airplane maintenance in military; long distance truck driver
Hearing info: my client filed for benefits in October, 2009, alleging an onset date in February, 2006 (his last day/date of injury) as a truck driver. The hearing was held before a judge that I know fairly well. I have had good results with this judge although she is very difficult to read and we don’t always know how she is leaning at the time of the hearing.
Background: my client has a long and consistent work history. In the late 1980’s and early 1990’s he was active duty in the military. In 1995, he was involved in a serious car accident and thereafter was discharged. Eventually he received a 100% service connected disability from the VA. After leaving the military, he took a job driving trucks. In February, 2006, he was seriously injured when he fell from an auto hauler truck and broke both wrists and re-injured his back.
His complaints include:
- severe low back pain
- severe neck pain and difficulty turning his head side to side
- pain and limited grip strength and mobility in both hands
- chronic and constant headaches
Factors in our favor:
- my client has a long and consistent work history
- his complaints arise from a specific injury incident
- his medical treatment has been consistent
- medical source opinions have been supportive
Factors not in our favor:
- the 2006 accident was a workers’ compensation accident and there are some non-supportive medical records in the file
- much of the medical record consists of VA records, which are difficult to read and rarely offer conclusions
Hearing Strategy: I felt that this was a strong case because of the nature of my client’s injuries, his consistent treatment, and strong support from two treating doctors. My client is not comfortable in stressful situations and I was somewhat concerned about how he would handle the pressure of a hearing.
Hearing Report: the judge opened the hearing by introducing herself and the vocational witness. She then asked my client a number of questions about his background and then about his medical condition. I was a little concerned that he answered some of these questions in generalities (i.e. I can’t walk very far or I can’t lift very much).
When the judge turned the questioning over to me, I questioned my client closely about his specific capabilities to sit, stand, walk, lift, carry and perform even simple activities ongoing. I felt that he did a good job in answering my questions and he seemed more relaxed talking to me (we had spent about an hour and a half earlier that week practicing testimony). We also talked about problems he had turning his neck and his need to stand up and sit down throughout the day in an effort to get comfortable.
After my direct examination was over, the judge turned to the vocational witness and asked her to identify the claimant’s past work:
- Driver supervisor – light, skilled
- Shipping checker – light semi-skilled
- Tractor trailer driver – medium semi-skilled
She then the following questions:
Q: Assume an individual the same age as the claimant with the same education and work background
- this person is limited to light work (can lift 20 lbs. occasionally and 10 lbs. frequently and can stand 6 out of 8 hours in a day)
- occasional use of ladders, ropes & scaffolds
- occasional stooping, kneeling, crouching, crawling and balancing
- can handle and finger bilaterally – frequently
- should avoid exposure to workplace hazards such as unprotected heights and vibrating machinery
- limited to simple, routine tasks
- should avoid fast paced work environments
- job should require only simple decisions and few changes in work place
Could such a person perform the claimant’s past work?
A: no, because his past work was either skilled or semi-skilled and the job described is unskilled (because of the simple, routine task limitation)
Q: are there other jobs such a person could do?
A: yes – and the vocational witness gave several example of light, unskilled job
Q: (Hypothetical question #2) – add to #1
- only occasional rotation of the neck
A: no work
Q: (Hypothetical question #3) – add to #1
- needs up to 4 unscheduled breaks of 10 minutes
A: no work
The judge then asked me if I had any questions for the vocational witness. I did not as my questions would have duplicated the judge’s questions #2 and #3
Conclusions: I felt that the medical record supported the limitations contained in the judge’s last two hypothetical questions (only occasional rotation of the neck and the need for unscheduled breaks during the day. Assuming that the judge finds my client credible – and I believe she will – the judge will approve this case.