Q&A: CAR ACCIDENTS AND DISABILITY CLAIMS

Car accidents can lead to severely disabling injuries.  I represent claimants who have been severely injured in automobile accidents.  Sometimes my car accident clients are so severely injured that they apply for Social Security disability benefits in addition to pursuing an automobile accident injury claim.  Here are some of the questions my automobile accident clients frequently ask:

Q:  Can I pursue a claim for a car wreck and pursue disability benefits as well?

A:  Yes, the two are separate claims and can be pursued at the same time.

Q:  Will I have to pay back money from the car accident if I received SSDI benefits?

A:  No, you can receive money for personal injury and collect SSDI benefits as well.

Q:  Do I qualify for SSDI benefits if I sustained a brain injury in a car accident?

A:  It depends on the severity of the brain injury.  Your treating physician diagnoses the brain injury and then your attorney makes an argument to the ALJ regarding whether the diagnosis qualifies under the Bluebook Guidelines for mental disorders and neurological disorders (cerebral trauma).

Q:  I was hit by an insured car but my vehicle was not insured, will their insurance still cover my medical bills?

A:  In Louisiana, we have a law called “no pay, no play.”  That law says that the driver of an uninsured vehicle, involved in a car accident, cannot collect the first $15,000.00 in damages owed to them by the at fault driver.  The passengers in the uninsured vehicle, as long as they are not the owner of the vehicle, can collect any damages owed to them.  Further, if the driver or owner of the uninsured vehicle has damages that exceed $15,000.00, that person can collect the damages owed to them, over and above $15,000.00.

The question of whether your car was insured does not affect the ability to proceed with an SSDI claim, which is not controlled by the no pay, no play statute.

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CLIENT TESTIMONIAL – ROBERT J.

“Mr. Nicholson did a great job for me, he got me my money real fast.” – Robert J.

Robert had another attorney.  That attorney took Robert’s case to hearing and lost.  The other attorney would not file an appeal to the Appeals Council, so Robert filed his own appeal.  The Appeals Council sent Robert’s case back to Baton Rouge for a new hearing and Robert contacted me.  I got involved in the case a couple of weeks before the hearing.

Robert had a compelling story.  He worked for over twenty years as a diesel mechanic helper, a nursing home orderly and in several other manual labor positions.  At the hearing, the crucial issue in the case, which the Appeals Council asked the ALJ to explore, was whether Robert needed a cane to walk. The medical records were full of references to the cane.

Robert’s case was won because Robert was a hard working man.  A man who would rather work than depend on Social Security for support.  But Robert was too worn out to continue working.  Although he wanted to continue working his body would not cooperate.  That was the story Robert told to the ALJ.

I take pride in representing men like Robert.  Let me know if I can help you.  Contact me at 225-281-7715 for a free consultation.

ABLE ACT MOVING THROUGH CONGRESS

The ABLE Act is moving through Congress and should get the Presidents approval if the Senate approves the bill.  The Act would creates ways for the disabled to save with no tax consequences and without losing benefits.

According to WISTV.COM, the bill is modeled after the tax-free college savings accounts.  The ABLE Act bill would change the federal tax code to allow states to establish the savings account program. To qualify for the account, a person would be diagnosed as disabled by age 26, with the disability resulting in “marked and severe functional limitation”.  Individuals already receiving Social Security disability benefits would also qualify.

Families could then set up tax-free accounts with banks, depositing up to $14,000 annually to pay for long-term needs such as transportation, health care, and education.  The qualified contributions are to be in after-tax dollars, but earnings will grow tax-free.  ABLE accounts could grow as large as $100,000 without the disabled individual losing their government benefits such as Social Security (current asset limit is $2,000), and Medicaid.

SOCIAL SECURITY DISABILITY CLAIM PROCESS EXPLAINED IN A VIDEO

I made an appearance many years ago, on a local television show here in Baton Rouge called Legal Lines.  In the video, I discuss the Social Security Disability claims process with a member of my former law firm.  The video is linked here.

If you want to discuss your Social Security Disability claim with a local lawyer in Louisiana, please contact me at jnicholsonlaw@gmail.com.

HOW LONG DOES IT TAKE TO WIN AN APPEAL?

Once your disability claim is denied by the Social Security Administration, you can hire an attorney to file your appeal and represent you at a hearing.  The attorney has 60 days to file your appeal, but it is good to hire an attorney quickly, because there is a long wait between when you file an appeal and when the claim is assigned for hearing.  I prefer to start the appeal process as soon as possible, so that my client is assigned a hearing date as soon as possible.

In Louisiana the wait for a hearing can be as long as seven months or even longer.  The average wait time in New Orleans is 12 months, compared to 7.5 months with the Shreveport ODAR.  The Social Security Administration’s wait time stats for your jurisdiction can be found here.

Once your hearing is done, the Administrative Law Judge who heard the case writes an opinion, either granting or denying your benefits.  It takes about two months to receive an opinion from most ALJ’s, but sometimes it takes longer.  When a favorable opinion is rendered, the opinion is sent to the benefits facility for processing and it generally takes a couple of months for SSA to issue your first check.  As you can see, the whole process, from application to benefits, can take a year or longer.

Sally Greer’s story, recently published in the Orange County Register, is similar to the story of most of my clients.  And the wait times in her jurisdiction are similar to the wait times experienced in most of Louisiana.  Sally’s story is a real world example of what to expect when waiting on your claim to be approved.

HOW TO APPLY FOR A DISABILITY CLAIM

To start up the Social Security disability claims process, the claimant must file the initial application paperwork.  The Social Security application may be completed online or in person at your local Social Security office.  The online disability application can be found here.

When you file your initial application, have all of your personal information ready.  Besides you Social Security number and other basic information, you will need to list such things as recent employers, descriptions of activities you are able to do, a list of medications you are on, and a list of your doctors.

In order to be successful, the claimant must prove that you are experiencing medical problems that will prevent you from working for the next year or that you have conditions which prevented you from working the last year.  The proof the Administration looks for is found in your medical records. Regardless of the statements you make to the Administration, they require proof to back up your claims regarding your condition.  Therefore it is necessary to tell your doctor about your limitations, including any functional limitations you have that prevent you from working.  If the doctor writes down your limitations in your medical records, you have a much greater chance of success than if you rely solely on your statements regarding your limitations.

Once your claim is denied, it is time to call an attorney.  You have 60 days from the date of your denial to file an appeal, therefore you should find representation quickly, in order to give your attorney the information he needs to file your appeal.  I represent Social Security disability clients for SSI and SSDI claims in Louisiana, specifically in the South Louisiana region, including Baton Rouge, New Orleans, Metairie, Denham Springs, and Hammond.  My firm also represents clients in North Louisiana, including Shreveport, Bossier City, Haughton, Vivian, and Ruston.  If you have any questions regarding the process or would like to discuss representation, please feel free to contact me at jnicholsonlaw@gmail.com.