A person seeking Social Security disability benefits is not required to be represented by an attorney. However, as the Second Circuit Court of Appeal’s ruling in Giunta v. Commissioner of Social Security makes clear, there are many reasons why a claimant may want legal counsel.
Plaintiff Joseph Giunta, a Flushing, New York resident, filed a claim for Social Security disability benefits, asserting that he’s unable to work due to a physical injury. Giunta’s claim was denied on Initial Application. Giunta appeared before an SSA Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) for a hearing at which he testified and presented evidence from a treating doctor.
The ALJ issued an Unfavorable Determination, finding that Giunta could return to work as a “light duty” computer technician, despite his injuries. On appeal, the Federal District Court and the Second Circuit affirmed the ALJ’s decision, ruling that the decision was supported by substantial evidence.
In reaching its decision, the court noted that “a claimant’s subjective report of the effects of his impairment is not controlling and the opinion of a treating physician is not controlling if it conflicts with other substantial evidence in the record.” In this case, Giunta’s testimony and that of his treating physician regarding the debilitating effects of his injuries was contradicted by objective medical evidence – the opinion of examining doctors – and, even worse, by Giunta’s own actions.
Giunta returned to work as a computer technician following his injury and testified that, after he was laid off, he was unable to find another job because of the poor economy, rather than due to any disability.
While attorney representation doesn’t guarantee success in a Social Security disability claim, an experienced disability lawyer can provide vital assistance and expertise that can mean the difference between approval and denial of a claim and in some cases speed up the claims process. In this case an experienced Social Security disability attorney would have evaluated the claim and determined what, if any, viable argument was available to persuade the decision-makers to grant his claim for Disability.