- Lie – Your medical records are full of information that you may not realize is in there – often they mention if you have been working, how you got injured, any drug use past or present, and how much you drink or smoke. Not only will the Judge know you are lying, you have now given him an excuse to ignore everything else you say.
- Don’t answer the question – Sometimes during a hearing you will be asked a question that you don’t understand at all or don’t know why the Judge (or your attorney) would be asking that question. Answer it anyway. Don’t assume the Judge asked the question wrong and that he was really asking something else. He was not. Think about the question and then answer it.
- Add a lot of extra information – I know that there is a lot of information you want the judge to have and that you are nervous. However a question about whether or not you drive should not include a story about your pet. Also do not explain why you’re answering the way you are. We don’t need to know why you feel you have to smoke, that’s a separate question. The hearing goes much smoother if the Judge and your attorney can ask questions in order. Part of the reason you have an attorney is that the attorney knows when and how to get that extra information. If the Judge asks if you drive, answer the question and later your attorney can ask how often you drive, for how long, if you drive at night, if you drive on the freeway, etc.
- Be rude – Treat the Judge, experts and all court staff with respect. Never ever interrupt the Judge, the staff or an expert. Wait for the question to be finished even if you understand what they are asking. While the judges are impartial and try to be fair it is still never a good idea to anger the person making an important decision about your life. Being rude never helps your case.
- Don’t stand up if you need to – Most disability cases have some element of back pain. Most claimants cannot sit through the hearing. Don’t try. If you need to stand up, ask the judge the first time then do so. You do nothing for your case by sitting there in pain for forty five minutes when you just testified you can sit comfortably for ten.
- Try to bring in extra witnesses – The Judges have already read your medical records. The purpose of a hearing is to hear from you what you can do and what you can’t do in order to assess your credibility. Hearings are scheduled back to back and there isn’t a lot of time to spare. The ALJ does not want to hear from your family members, friends, doctors or social workers if it is going to be the same information you are providing. If they would like to help, have them write a letter. The exception is a case where the claimant cannot speak for themselves or do not know what’s going on. For example, in cases where there is a head injury or paranoid schizophrenic, family members are used as witnesses because they can provide information the claimant can’t.
- Focus on matters that are not at issue – The disability case is focused on time period after you stopped working. If you had prior injuries or diagnoses long before you stopped working, it doesn’t matter much for your case because you were able to continue working. Focus on why you stopped working and how you have felt since then.
- Pretending you know the answer to a question when you don’t – Memory issues are very common in almost every type of disability case. Pain and pain medication make it difficult to remember. If the Judge or your attorney asks a question and you don’t know the answer – say so. Making something up or trying to guess the answer is not helpful and may be misconstrued as lying to the Judge. Admitting you don’t know the answer makes you look credible in the Judge’s eyes and also makes the point that you have memory problems sometimes.
The Foster Law Firm
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