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Knoxville Personal Injury Law Blog

Tennessee street racing car wreck tragically kills 19-year-old

Street racing or drag racing is something that happens in the streets across Tennessee and the rest of the United States. During April 2013, a 20-year-old male was killed on the streets of Tennessee, after two street racers crashed into his car. One year later, another young male, aged 19, died in a car wreck during a drag race.

According to the deceased victim's brother, the teenage boy was a spectator at the race, just like most other Saturdays. The police reported that the deceased was turning left at an intersection, when a red Mustang traveling west crashed into his vehicle. The victim's girlfriend, a witness of the accident, reported that the deceased's seatbelt was stuck and she immediately tried to undo it. Other bystanders also came to help and pulled him from the wreck.

Tennessee campaign attempts to decrease fatal car accidents

Road safety officials in Tennessee have made it their goal to try to contain the number of fatal car accidents caused by distracted drivers by creating an awareness of the dangers of distractions while driving. In Tennessee, hundreds of car accidents are caused yearly by drivers, who are distracted, particularly by mobile phones. It is estimated that approximately 50 percent of fatal accidents can be ascribed to drivers who are distracted.

The new initiative, called Drive to Zero, is focused on decreasing the number of fatal accidents. The viewpoint taken is that every fatal accident is one too many. During the launch of the campaign, one official provided a disturbing image. In his talk, he indicated that to receive or send a text message requires that the driver look away from the road for 4.3 seconds. In that minute amount of time, a driver can travel the complete length of a standard football field while not paying attention to the road.

New Process for Veteran Social Security Disability Claims

     There is some good news for disabled veterans going through the Social Security Disability or SSI process! Effective March 17, 2014, the Social Security Administration (SSA) began expediting disability claims for veterans receiving VA service-connected disability and who have a rating of 100% "Permanent and Total" disability form the Department of Veterans Affairs. The SSA announced:

The VA rating only expedites Social Security disability claims processing and does not guarantee an allowance for disability benefits. These veterans must still meet Social Security eligibility and entitlement requirements for a disability allowance.

     The expedited processing of claims will occur at levels of the disability systems (application, reconsideration, hearings, etc.). The veteran must provide the rating letter demonstrating 100% Permanent and Total disability for service-connected disabilities.

     Even if the veteran has not been deemed 100% Permanently and Totally disabled for service-connected disbilities by the VA, he or she may still have the claim expedited for Wounded Warrior status.

Appeals Council Statistics for Social Security Disability

     If a Social Security Disability or SSI claimant loses at a hearing before an administrative law judge (ALJ), the next step of the process often is an appeal before the Appeals Council (AC). At the AC, the SSA looks to determine if the ALJ's decision is not supported by substantial evidence or errors of law were committed requiring reversal or remand. The SSA recently released statistics about the AC for 2013.

     In 2013, the AC processed 176,251 requests for review, which was a 6% increase over 2012, but new receipts of requests for review actually declined. The average processing time at the AC was 364 days! Out of the claims processed, the dispositions were as follows:

  • Review denied in 76.87% of cases;
  • Remands in 17.11% of cases;
  • Dismissals in 4.15% of cases;
  • Fully Favorable Decisions in .8% of cases;
  • Partially Favorable Decisions in .65% of cases; and
  • Unfavorable Decisions in .42% of cases.

     Unfortunately, these statistics are similar to those are to the Application and Reconsideration levels in terms of successful determinations for claimants.

High speed and DUI car wreck -- jury says guilty of homocide

A 21-year-old male will have to wait until May 5 to know what his sentence is, after a jury found him guilty in a vehicular homicide case on Thursday, March 27. The Tennessee trial lasted for two days. The young man stayed calm during the verdict, although earlier, he testified that the deceased of the car wreck had been his best childhood friend. As they heard the verdict, several of his supporting family members were crying.

Testimony by several witnesses provided the facts of the case. The 2012 car wreck happened during the early hours of the morning, when the defendant left a party to go and get cigarettes. He allowed his 20-year-old best friend to get into the car with him despite knowing that he had had too much to drink. Another friend from the party testified that his offer to drive was declined. The BMW in which the two young men were traveling hit a metal sign after the driver lost control and left the highway.

Social Security Disability or SSI Benefits Due to Amputations

     A person can qualify for Social Security Disability or SSI benefits if she has suffered from an amputation or amputations. The Social Security Administration (SSA) follows a step-by-step evaluation to determine if someone is medically qualified for disability benefits. At the third step of the process, the SSA looks to see if the person has an impairment or several impairments that meet or equal a "listing." The listing is as follows:

1.05 Amputation (due to any cause)

A. Both hands;

or

B. One or both lower extremities at or above the tarsal region, with stump complications resulting in medical inability to use a prosthetic device to ambulate effectively, as defined in 1.00B2b, which have lasted or are expected to last for at least 12 months;

or

C. One hand and one lower extremity at or above the tarsal region, with inability to ambulate effectively, as defined in 1.00B2b;

or

D. Hemipelvectomy or hip disarticulation.

     Inability to ambulate effectively means an extreme limitation of the ability to walk; i.e., an impairment(s) that interferes very seriously with the individual's ability to independently initiate, sustain, or complete activities. Ineffective ambulation is defined generally as having insufficient lower extremity functioning to permit independent ambulation without the use of a hand-held assistive device(s) that limits the functioning of both upper extremities.

     Individuals must be capable of sustaining a reasonable walking pace over a sufficient distance to be able to carry out activities of daily living. They must have the ability to travel without companion assistance to and from a place of employment or school.

     If a claimant does not qualify for benefits based on this Listing, the impairments can still be considered when determining whether she can return to past employment or whether jobs exist in the local and national economy. For instance, if lifting, standing, walking, sitting, or pushing/pulling are significantly limited, these factors might eliminate jobs existing in the local or national economy to the point a claimant is found disabled.

Tennessee man seriously injured and horse killed in car wreck

An early morning accident in the middle of March led to a dead horse and a seriously injured male. The car wreck happened shortly after 6.30 a.m. on a recent Friday morning in the region of the Madison and Carroll County lines. This area of Tennessee includes a great deal of farmland with many people keeping animals in fenced fields along the highway.

It is reported that, on this particular morning, a horse must have gotten out of its paddock and ran onto the highway. The horse was hit by two cars, one after the other. Sadly, the horse was killed, but no persons travelling in either of the cars were injured in accidents.

Federal District Court Overturns Unfavorable Decision in Social Security Disability Claim

     On March 3, 2014, the Federal District Court for the Eastern District of Tennessee sitting at Knoxville overturned the Commissioner's decision to deny Social Security Disability benefits to Rhonda Jackson, one of the firm's clients. The case will be remanded back to the Office of Disability Adjudication and Review for another hearing.

     As noted by the court, Mrs. Jackson worked as a registered nurse from 1990 until 2005, and though she maintains her license as a registered nurse, this license is now in inactive status, and she has not worked since 2005. Mrs. Jackson alleges that she has been disabled since February 2005 due to chronic depression, lack of sleep, panic attacks, anxiety, and hand problems. She adds that she has trouble being around people and even leaving her house, noting that she is depressed as a result of various events that have occurred in her life. Mrs. Jackson testified that her inability to focus, forgetfulness, and pain are the worst of the medical maladies that have prevented her from returning to work.

Under the treating source rule, "the Commissioner has mandated that the ALJ 'will' give a treating source's opinion controlling weight if it 'is well-supported by medically acceptable clinical and laboratory diagnostic techniques and is not inconsistent with the other substantial evidence in [a claimant's] case record.'" Cole v. Astrue, 661 F.3d 931, 937 (6th Cir. 2011) (quoting 20 C.F.R. § 404.1527(d)(2)). If, however, an ALJ decides not to give the opinion of a treating physician controlling weight, he or she must then apply the following factors in determining the weight to give the opinion: "the length of the treatment relationship and the frequency of examination, the nature and extent of the treatment relationship, [the] supportability of the opinion, [the] consistency of the opinion with the record as a whole, and the specialization of the treating source." Wilson v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 378 F.3d 541, 544 (6th Cir. 2004) (citing 20 C.F.R. § 404.1527(d)(2)).

     Here, Dr. May and Dr. Bergia, both specialists, provided opinions indicating that plaintiff was suffering from medical conditions and related limitations which, if accepted, support a finding of disability. Indeed, this was the testimony of the vocational expert at the hearing [Tr. 55-57]. The Court finds that the ALJ erred by failing to adequately address, evaluate, and assign weight to these treating source opinions, and thus his opinion was not reached through application of the correct legal standards and in accordance with the procedure mandated by the regulations and rulings promulgated by the Commissioner.

Federal District Court Overturns Unfavorable Decision in Social Security Disability Claim

On March 3, 2014, the Federal District Court for the Eastern District of Tennessee sitting at Knoxville overturned the Commissioner's decision to deny Social Security Disability benefits to Rhonda Jackson, one of the firm's clients. The case will be remanded back to the Office of Disability Adjudication and Review for another hearing.

As noted by the court, Mrs. Jackson worked as a registered nurse from 1990 until 2005, and though she maintains her license as a registered nurse, this license is now in inactive status, and she has not worked since 2005. Mrs. Jackson alleges that she has been disabled since February 2005 due to chronic depression, lack of sleep, panic attacks, anxiety, and hand problems. She adds that she has trouble being around people and even leaving her house, noting that she is depressed as a result of various events that have occurred in her life. Mrs. Jackson testified that her inability to focus, forgetfulness, and pain are the worst of the medical maladies that have prevented her from returning to work.

When Hurricane Katrina made landfall, Mrs. Jackson was living and working on the gulf coast, near New Orleans. She testified that her home was engulfed by the storm and that her family needed three days to cut its way out of the home with axes. The hospital where Mrs. Jackson had worked was "completely submerged and destroyed," and thus Mrs. Jackson lost her job. Subsequently, Mrs. Jackson's father passed away, she had a hysterectomy, she became unable to sleep, her father-in-law died, her best friend died of breast cancer, and she suffered from major depressive disorder. Dr. Randall May ("Dr. May"), Mrs. Jackson's treating psychiatrist, diagnosed her with post-traumatic stress disorder ("PTSD") and bipolar disorder. Dr. Berta Bergia ("Dr. Bergia"), Mrs. Jackson's treating neurologist, diagnosed her with "widespread pain" aggravated by severe insomnia, as well as "very significant cognitive dysfunction and poor overall functioning." Dr. Bergia also noted pain, numbness, tingling, and weakness in Mrs. Jackson's legs, arms, and torso.

Under the treating source rule, "the Commissioner has mandated that the ALJ 'will' give a treating source's opinion controlling weight if it 'is well-supported by medically acceptable clinical and laboratory diagnostic techniques and is not inconsistent with the other substantial evidence in [a claimant's] case record.'" Cole v. Astrue, 661 F.3d 931, 937 (6th Cir. 2011) (quoting 20 C.F.R. § 404.1527(d)(2)). If, however, an ALJ decides not to give the opinion of a treating physician controlling weight, he or she must then apply the following factors in determining the weight to give the opinion: "the length of the treatment relationship and the frequency of examination, the nature and extent of the treatment relationship, [the] supportability of the opinion, [the] consistency of the opinion with the record as a whole, and the specialization of the treating source." Wilson v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 378 F.3d 541, 544 (6th Cir. 2004) (citing 20 C.F.R. § 404.1527(d)(2)).

The ALJ has a clear duty to "always give good reasons in [the] notice of determination or decision for the weight [he or she] give[s] [a] treating source's opinion." 20 C.F.R. § 404.1527[d][2]. Such good reasons must always be supported by evidence of record and must be "'sufficiently specific to make clear to any subsequent reviewers the weight the adjudicator gave to the treating source's medical opinion and the reasons for that weight.'" Cole, 661 F.3d at 937 (quoting SSR 96-2p, 1996 WL 374188 (July 2, 1996)). This good reasons requirement is designed "to safeguard the claimant's procedural rights" and "is intended 'to let claimants understand the disposition of their cases, particularly in situations where a claimant knows that his physician has deemed him disabled and therefore might be especially bewildered when told by an administrative bureaucracy that [s]he is not.'" Cole, 661 F.3d at 937-38 (quoting Wilson,

378 F.3d at 544). Importantly, "[a] finding that a treating source medical opinion . . . is not entitled to controlling weight [does] not [mean] that the opinion should be rejected." Blakley v.

Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 581 F.3d 399, 408 (6th Cir. 2009). "In addition to balancing the factors to determine what weight to give a treating source opinion denied controlling weight, the agency specifically requires the ALJ to give good reasons for the weight actually assigned." Cole, 661 F.3d at 938. "On the other hand, opinions from nontreating and nonexamining sources are never assessed for 'controlling weight.'" Gayheart v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 710 F.3d 365, 376 (6th Cir. 2013). Such opinions are instead weighed "based on the examining relationship [or lack thereof], specialization, consistency, and supportability, but only if a treating-source opinion is not deemed controlling." Id. (citing 20 C.F.R. § 404.1527(c)).

Here, Dr. May and Dr. Bergia, both specialists, provided opinions indicating that plaintiff was suffering from medical conditions and related limitations which, if accepted, support a finding of disability. Indeed, this was the testimony of the vocational expert at the hearing [Tr. 55-57]. The Court finds that the ALJ erred by failing to adequately address, evaluate, and assign weight to these treating source opinions, and thus his opinion was not reached through application of the correct legal standards and in accordance with the procedure mandated by the regulations and rulings promulgated by the Commissioner.

Importantly, as mentioned, even finding that a treating source opinion is not entitled to controlling weight does not automatically mean that it should be entitled to no weight, Blakley, 581 F.3d at 408, and not assigning a specific weight to a treating source opinion "alone constitutes error." Cole, 661 F.3d at 938 (citing Blakley, 581 F.3d at 408).

Therefore, in light of the foregoing, the Court finds that the ALJ did not properly apply the treating source rule to the present matter, thereby depriving plaintiff of a substantial right and important benefit or safeguard. Moreover, though the ALJ gave "little weight" to the opinions of every medical expert in the case and questioned plaintiff's credibility, there was little in the record upon which the ALJ could conclude that plaintiff had the residual functional capacity to

"perform a full range of work at all exertional levels" with limitations only as to simple instructions, occasional interaction with the public, and occasional changes in job settings or routines [Tr. 16].

Accordingly, the Court finds that the ALJ failed to appropriately and fully apply the proper legal and procedural framework to plaintiff's case in rendering his opinion, and the Court must therefore decide whether this error requires that the case be remanded. The Sixth Circuit "has made clear that '[it] do[es] not hesitate to remand when the Commissioner has not provided good reasons for the weight given to a treating physician's opinion and [it] will continue remanding when [it] encounter[s] opinions from ALJ's that do not comprehensively set forth the reasons for the weight assigned to a treating physician's opinion.'" Cole, 661 F.3d at 939 (quoting Hensley v. Astrue, 573 F.3d 263, 267 (6th Cir. 2009) (citation and internal quotation marks omitted)).

High-speed car wreck in Tennessee kills 2

During the early hours of the morning on a recent Thursday, two young men lost their lives in an accident involving a car and a truck. The car wreck happened on Highway 31 at an intersection near the Robertson County border with Sumner County. According to reports by the Tennessee authorities, the car was traveling at an approximate speed of 80 mph at the time of the accident.

Reportedly, the car slammed into the back of the tractor-trailer as it was trying to turn onto the highway at approximately 2 a.m. Two of the three young occupants of the car -- all from out of state -- died on impact. The deceased were the 21-year-old car driver and a 22-year-old male passenger. The other passenger, also a 21-year-old male, was injured in the car wreck. Little is known about the extent of the injuries suffered by the young man.

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