Disability advocates filed a class action lawsuit in federal court in Brooklyn New York alleging bias in Social Security disability benefits cases.
Eight plaintiffs represent a class of individuals who were denied benefits after seeking review hearings in the Queens Social Security Administration (SSA) office. They complain of harsh, combative questioning and systematic denials based largely upon race and economic status.
Many of the representative applicants are poor or immigrants, and their brutish experiences are well-known. Some lawyers have advised their clients establish residences in other boroughs so they can avoid the Queens office. Federal judges have overturned a number of Queens rulings in recent years, citing legal errors, and problematic hearings where questioning has been called "brusque, intemperate and unhelpful."
The plaintiffs seek to have rulings from five administrative law judges rescinded. They also want to bar the judges from hearing future cases. According to the New York Times, these judges have rejected an average of 63 percent of the cases they have heard; much higher than the national average of 36 percent. An SSA audit revealed that the Queens office was in the top five nationally for the percentage of review decisions sent back for rehearing in 2007.
The federal court's ruling could affect thousands of people who were previously denied benefits.
Disability lawyers and the chronically injured understand that applying for benefits can be an arduous process. On average, the Social Security Administration rejects 65 percent of initial applications. However, applicants can have their petitions reconsidered by someone who was not involved with the initial review. Applicants are entitled to a review hearing before an administrative law judge if reconsideration results in a denial.
The Journal, a Delaware-based newspaper, noted that administrative law judges in Michigan reject, on average, 35 percent of all disability petitions, with one Grand Rapids judge denying benefits in 66 percent of cases. If you have applied for benefits and your initial claim has been rejected, it is important to have an attorney review your petition and medical records in preparation for an appeal.
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