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Knoxville Personal Injury Law Blog

Car wreck leaves 2 injured in Tennessee

Two Harley-Davidson riders suffered injuries in an accident on a recent Saturday afternoon in the end of July. Tennessee Highway Patrol officials report that the accident happened just before 1:30 p.m. The car wreck involving a Lincoln Town Car and the two motorcycles happened along U.S. Highway 231.

At the time of the accident, the driver of the car was traveling in the slow lane. The two motorcyclists were passing the car when the driver, who is 82 years old, changed lanes and moved into the way of the one motorcyclist, aged 43. The unexpected lane change caused the motorcyclist to collide with the second bike.

Opinions of Treating Sources in Social Security Disability

     In Social Security Disability or SSI claims, the residual functional capacity ("RFC") (to learn more about exertional levels click here) of the Claimant is very often the determining factor in whether the person is found disabled. The SSA looks to what physicians, psychologists, or other medical sources have to say about the individual's limitations or abilities. Opinions from treating sources are particularly valuable.

     In Blakely v. Commissioner of Social Security, the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals held that in assessing medical evidence supporting a claim for disability benefits, the ALJ must adhere to certain standards. Blakely v. Commissioner of Social Security, 581 F.3d 399 (6th Cir. 2009). That standard, known as the Treating Physician Rule, requires the ALJ to give greater deference to the opinions of treating physicians than the opinions of non-treating physicians because:

These sources are likely to be the medical professionals most able to provide a detailed, longitudinal picture of the [claimant's] medical impairment(s) and may bring a unique perspective to the medical evidence that cannot be obtained from the objective medical findings alone or from reports of individual examinations such as consultive examinations or brief hospitalizations.

Id. at 406. Even if the ALJ does not accord controlling weight to the treating physician, the ALJ must still determine how much weight is appropriate. Id. See also 20 C.F.R. §416.927, POMS DI 24515.002, DI 24515.003, SSR 96-2(p). If the Administrative Law Judge does not accord controlling weight to a treating physician, regulations require the Administrative Law Judge to always give good reasons in the determination or decision for weight given to the claimant's treating source opinion. Id. at 407; 20 C.F.R. 404.1527(d)(2).

     In determining the question of substantiality of evidence, the reports of physicians who have treated a patient over a period of time or who are consulted for purposes of treatment are given greater weight than are reports of physicians employed and paid by the government for the purpose of defending against a disability claim.  Rineholt v. Astrue, 617 F.Supp. 2d 733; U.S. Dist. LEXIS 33850 (2009) quoting Allen v. Califano, 613 F.2d 139, 145 (6th Cir. 1980).

Teens involved in bus and car wreck in Tennessee

A bus carrying a group of teenagers was involved in a multiple vehicle accident on a recent Thursday in July. The teenagers were on a visit to Tennessee to do missionary work. The mission trip was organized by Johnson University in Knoxville. Several people, including some of the visiting teenagers, were injured in the car wreck. Tragically, one person died.

The bus carrying the visitors apparently failed to stop at a traffic light and crashed into two vehicles. Officials report that it appears the bus could not stop at the red traffic light because of a mechanical problem. The 54-year-old male driver died at the scene of the accident.

Social Security Disability and Somatoform or Conversion Disorder

     Persons can qualify for Social Security Disability or SSI benefits based on conversion disorder or somatoform disorder. If a person is not working and has been diagnosed with this severe condition, the Social Security Administration will determine whether the person is disabled under a listing or whether jobs exists considering the person's residual abilities. In terms of the listing in the SSA's Bluebook or Code of Federal Regulations, it states:

     12.07 Somatoform disorders: Physical symptoms for which there are no demonstrable organic findings or known physiological mechanisms.  The required level of severity for these disorders is met when the requirements in both A and B are satisfied.

A. Medically documented by evidence of one of the following:

1. A history of multiple physical symptoms of several years duration, beginning before age 30, that have caused the individual to take medicine frequently, see a physician often and alter life patterns significantly; or

2. Persistent nonorganic disturbance of one of the following:

a. Vision, or

b. Speech; or

c. Hearing; or

d. Use of a limb; or

e. Movement and its control (e.g., coordination disturbance, psychogenic seizures, akinesia, dyskinesia; or

f. Sensation (e.g., diminished or heightened).

3. Unrealistic interpretation of physical signs or sensations associated with the preoccupation or belief that one has a serious disease or injury;

AND

B. Resulting in at least two of the following:

1. Marked restriction of activities of daily living; or

2. Marked difficulties in maintaining social functioning; or

3. Marked difficulties in maintaining concentration, persistence, or pace; or

4. Repeated episodes of decompensation, each of extended duration.

     If a claimant does not qualify for benefits based on this Listing, the impairments can still be considered when determining whether he or she can return to past employment or whether jobs exist in the local and national economy.

For more information about qualifying for disability benefits based on serious mental disorders, such as schizophrenia, click here.

Chicken feed delivery led to fatal workplace injury

The electrocution of a man delivering chicken feed on a recent Wednesday morning at the beginning of July has left a lasting impression on an eyewitness. The 63-year-old victim died when part of his delivery truck touched an overhead power line. This accident is an example of some of the dangers to which agricultural workers across the United States, including Tennessee, are exposed. A workplace injury within the agricultural sector may arise from such a dangerous situation

Officials investigating the accident believe that the explosion was caused after a boom, used to feed the grain to the adjacent silo from the back of his truck, touched a power line. The accident happened at just before 9 a.m. The explosion left residents in the area without power for about 30 minutes. The power had to be cut to allow rescue teams to put out the fire resulting from the explosion.

Social Security Disability and the Meaning of Exertional Levels

     Social Security Disability and SSI claims often deal with physical ailments and their effects on a person's ability to do work. The Social Security Administration determines whether the person seeking benefits can perform his/her past work and whether other work exists considering his/her residual functional capacity, i.e. what the claimant can still do despite her physical or mental impairments. What is an exertional level?

    The Social Security Administration defines exertional level as a work classification defining the functional requirements of work in terms of the range of the primary strength activities required. Besides strength requirements, other activities are necessary to carry out the requirements of sedentary, light, and medium work.

     Sedentary work involves lifting no more than 10 pounds at a time and occasionally lifting or carrying. Although sitting is involved, a certain amount of walking and standing is often necessary in carrying out job duties. Jobs are sedentary if walking and standing are required occasionally and other sedentary criteria are met. "Occasionally" means occurring from very little up to one-third of the time. Since being on one's feet is required "occasionally" at the sedentary level of exertion, periods of standing or walking should generally total no more than about 2 hours of an 8-hour workday, and sitting should generally total approximately 6 hours of an 8-hour workday. Most unskilled sedentary jobs require good use of the hands and fingers for repetitive hand-finger actions.

    Light work has lifting no more than 20 pounds at a time with frequent lifting or carrying of objects weighing up to 10 pounds. Even though the weight lifted in a particular light job may be very little, a job is in this category when it requires a good deal of walking or standing. "Frequent" means occurring from one-third to two-thirds of the time. Frequent lifting or carrying requires being on one's feet up to two-thirds of a workday. Thus, the full range of light work requires standing or walking for a total of approximately 6 hours of an 8-hour workday. Sitting may occur intermittently during the remaining time. A job is also in this category when it involves sitting most of the time, but with some pushing and pulling of arm-hand or leg-foot controls, which require greater exertion than in sedentary work. The lifting requirement for the majority of light jobs can be accomplished with occasional, rather than frequent, stooping. Many unskilled light jobs are performed primarily in one location, with the ability to stand being more critical than the ability to walk. They require use of arms and hands to grasp and to hold and turn objects, and they generally do not require use of the fingers for fine activities to the extent required in much sedentary work.

    Medium requires lifting no more than 50 pounds at a time with frequent lifting or carrying of objects weighing up to 25 pounds. A full range of medium work requires standing or walking for a total of approximately 6 hours in an 8-hour workday. For answers for frequently asked questions, click here.

Tennessee jury awards $3 million after a 2011 car wreck

A fatal 2011 car wreck happened when the driver of a Toyota Camry lost control of her vehicle. She hit a road sign, crossed into the eastbound lanes and crash into the Mercedes driven by one of the victims. The elderly passenger of the Mercedes passed away nearly two weeks later, while the driver suffered severe injuries to his legs. The 57-year-old Tennessee driver will always suffer as a result of the injuries from the car wreck. Recently, a jury ruled in favor of the plaintiffs, awarding damages of $3 million.

Another driver implicated in the case, as well as the state, was considered without blame by the jury. According to a representative for the defendant held accountable, the other driver nearly moved in front of the Camry, leading to her losing control of her car, but witnesses contradicted the evidence. It was also argued that the state should share liability as there was no form of barrier between the two highway lanes. The judge in the case dismissed the claims. The jury thereafter placed all the blame on the Camry’s driver.

Social Security Disability Wait Times Up with Lower Approvals

Unfortunately, the news for Social Security Disability and SSI claimants waiting for a hearing continues to worsen in terms of wait times for hearings and percentage of people awarded disability. Just a few months ago, in May of 2014, I posted the latest information on wait times and approval rates. Things have worsened since then!

The national average processing time for claims before the Office of Disability Adjudication and Review is up to 397 days, which is up seven days since May of 2014, and up from 372 in December of 2013. Nationally, the average approval rate has remained at 44% though this is down from 46% in December of 2013).

In Tennessee, the average processing time has increased to 427 days from 419 in May, 407 days in February, and 388 days in December of 2013 with 49% of cases being approved. The approval rate has dropped from 50% in February of 2014 and 53% in December of 2013.

In terms of averages for local offices, Middlesboro is holding steady at 377 days (up from 366 days in February) with 43% of cases being approved (down from 45% approved). The Kingsport ODAR is still the fastest in terms of processing time with an average of 344 days (down from 346 days in May, but up from 326 days in December of 2013) with 59% of cases being approved. Chattanooga has increased to 458 days, which is up from 443 in May, 429 in February, and 390 days in December. The Chattanooga ODAR is at 56% of cases approved. The Knoxville ODAR is up to 487 days average processing time (up from 474 in May, 457 days in February, and 406 days in December) with 45% of cases being approved. The Knoxville approval rates continue their rapid and steady decline. In May of 2014, 48% of claims were approved and that was down from 53% in December. Unfortunately, these numbers confirm that on a whole the average processing times are going up everywhere while the percentage of case approved by Administrative Law Judges continues to decline.

The hearing office staff work hard and understand the frustrations of the claimants and representatives, but they are hamstrung by the workload and budgetary restraints.

Tennessee car wreck kills 1 in Murfreesboro

A 31-year-old Tennessee woman may be facing charges after police said that she caused an accident in which another person died. The car wreck happened during the early morning on a recent Wednesday in late June. Tennessee authorities suspect the driver of driving while under the influence of drugs.

While nearing an intersection, the driver is said to have crossed the yellow lines into the eastbound traffic. The 34-year-old driver of a truck tried to move out of the way by pulling onto the shoulder of the road. Despite the attempt to avoid the accident, his truck was still hit by the approaching car.

Childhood SSI and Need for Test Results in Psychological Cases

     In determining whether a child qualifies for disability under the Childhood SSI regulations, the SSA decides if the child meets a listing or functionally meets a listing through deficits in any number of six domains of function. When dealing with a mental disorder, whether ADHD, autism, asperger's, intellectual disability (formerly known as mental retardation), the results of psychological testing are very important to the determination of disability. Some important factors from the regulations about testing are:

  • Reference to a "standardized psychological test" indicates the use of a psychological test measure that has appropriate validity, reliability, and norms, and is individually administered by a qualified specialist.
  • A report of test results should include both the objective data and any clinical observations.
  • The salient characteristics of a good test are: (1) Validity, i.e., the test measures what it is supposed to measure; (2) reliability, i.e., the consistency of results obtained over time with the same test and the same individual; (3) appropriate normative data, i.e., individual test scores can be compared to test data from other individuals or groups of a similar nature, representative of that population; and (4) wide scope of measurement. In considering the validity of a test result, we should note and resolve any discrepancies between formal test results and the child's customary behavior and daily activities.
  • The IQ scores in listing 112.05 reflect values from tests of general intelligence that have a mean of 100 and a standard deviation of 15, e.g., the Wechsler series. IQs obtained from standardized tests that deviate from a mean of 100 and standard deviation of 15 require conversion to a percentile rank so that the actual degree of limitation reflected by the IQ scores can be determined. In cases where more than one IQ is customarily derived from the test administered, e.g., where verbal, performance, and full scale IQs are provided, the lowest of these is used in conjunction with listing 112.05.
  • IQ test results must also be sufficiently current for accurate assessment under 112.05. Generally, the results of IQ tests tend to stabilize by the age of 16. 
  • Comprehensive neuropsychological examinations may be used to establish the existence and extent of compromise of brain function.

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