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The Importance of Lay Witness Testimony in Your Social Security Disability Claim

Posted on November 23, 2015

If you have filed a disability claim with the Social Security Administration (SSA), a Cleveland disability lawyer explains how lay witnesses, including friends and family, can help with your claim.Gavel, Books & U.S. Flag Cleveland disability lawyer

A lay witness is a witness who is not a medical or professional expert. These witnesses are those who know you well, including what you were like before your disability and how your disability has changed you. These lay witnesses can include the following people:

  • Friends;
  • Family;
  • Neighbors; and
  • Former work colleagues.

Your Cleveland disability lawyer will introduce testimony from these lay witnesses, and the SSA will evaluate their testimony on the following grounds:

  • The nature and extent of their relationship to you;
  • If there is a consistency between their testimony and the expert findings; and
  • If there are other factors to support or refute evidence already presented.

The importance of lay witness testimony is that medical sources do not highlight all the day-to-day activities and life of the claimant. The people who are close to you therefore have expertise in the daily life and how the disability affects you.

How Lay Witnesses Assess Residual Functional Capacity

Your residual functional capacity (RFA) is how the SSA determines the extent of your disability and what you should receive in benefits. Your lay witnesses can describe their observations of your limitations such as your symptoms and your pain. What your friends and family witness will be considered along with what your doctors and other professionals say about your condition.

Lay Witnesses Help Determine Your Disability’s Onset Date

Sometimes, the official medical records do not determine exactly when the symptoms began and how severe they were because of when you pursued medical assistance and how quickly you were able to seek help. Your friends, family and former co-workers can help fill in the gap and confirm when you started experiencing your symptoms.

Lay Witnesses Can Provide Information about Your Past Relevant Work

The SSA will need to assess your work capabilities prior to the onset of your disability. Former co-workers and even friends and family can attest to your abilities in the months and years prior to your disability.

However, many administrative law judges (ALJs) do not hold as much stock in lay witnesses as they do expert witnesses. Some ALJs resist taking evidence from lay witnesses, and some ALJ decisions do not even mention lay witness testimony or exhibits. With that in mind, the federal courts are now guiding ALJs to consider lay evidence and, on occasion, award benefits despite the ALJ ignoring lay evidence.

For more information regarding lay witnesses and how they can help your case, contact Cleveland disability lawyer John Paul Oreh at 216-896-0935.

Social Security Disability Library