Will a Disability Judge give You an Immediate Decision at the Hearing?

Question: Will the adminstrative law judge, i.e the disability judge, ever give you a decision on the spot, at the hearing?

And the answer is, yes, sometimes the ALJ will do this. When this happens, it is known as a bench decision. The judge will announce the decision to the claimant and their representative at the hearing and the formal written version of the decision will follow in the mail.

Why do some cases receive bench decisions while others do not? Good presentation of a well-prepared case probably makes all the difference in receiving an immediate bench decision. The claimant's disability attorney submitting a well organized brief to the judge prior to the hearing date helps as well. What is a hearing brief? Think of it as a synopsis of the case elements along with a rationale for approving the disability case.

A disability lawyer who submits a brief to an Administrative Law Judge for a Social Security Disability or SSI claim is intent on demonstrating to the judge two things: A) why it is that the case should be approved and B) saving time for all parties, including the judge, which is reason enough to submit the brief, but also in doing so, it may save valuable time for the claimant whose finances are on the rope, so to speak.

The submission of a pre-hearing brief also indicates that a disability lawyer has a firm belief in the merits of the case and this fact is probably not lost on the judge who receives the brief.

What usually happens at disability hearings?

What happens at most disability hearings is that the claimant and their representative (assuming they are represented by a disability attorney or a non-attorney claimant's representative) will participate in the hearing proceedings for as little as ten minutes and perhaps as long as an hour and, then, after the hearing has been concluded, both parties will wait a number of weeks to receive the administrative law judge's notice of decision, followed by a notice of award from the social security office if the case has been approved by the judge.

The notice of decision comes in three flavors:

1. Fully favorable - Meaning that the judge agrees with the disability onset date alleged by the claimant at the time of filing the disability claim;

2. Partially favorable - Meaning that the judge has found that the claimant meets the social security administration definition of disability and can be considered disabled, but the judge, however, does not agree with the onset date alleged by the claimant and has concluded that the claimant became disabled at a later point in time (disability lawyers will argue for the earliest possible onset date because this has a direct effect on how much back pay may be awarded to the claimant).

3. Unfavorable - This one should be self-explanatory. In these cases, the judge has evaluated the medical and vocational evidence and has determined that the claimant's condition is either non-severe, or is severe but not severe enough to last twelve months (this is a durational denial), or is severe but not severe enough to rule out the claimant's ability to go back to their past work or perform some type of other work activity.

In instances where a disability claimant is notified at the hearing that the case will be paid (i.e. you've won), it's likely that the case was well-presented and well-prepared in terms of evidence gathering and this highlights the fact that at the hearing level having a disability attorney on the case can be instrumental.

About the Author: Tim Moore is a former Social Security Disability Examiner in North Carolina, has been interviewed by the NY Times and the LA Times on the disability system, and is an Accredited Disability Representative (ADR) in North Carolina. For assistance on a disability application or Appeal in NC, click here.

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