Law Office of Michael Tonder, P.C.

65 Pineville Road, Suite 2
Monroeville, AL 36460

P.O. Box 337
Excel, AL 36439‎

251.302.2228


Michael Tonder

Severe impairments in Social Security cases

If you’ve applied for Social Security Disability, you are probably well aware of the ups, downs, ins, and outs of the system by now.

It’s complicated.

One of the first issues many claimants run in to is proving they have a severe impairment. In my experience, rural claimants run into this issue frequently due to lack of available health care.  A low income claimant in a rural setting can have difficulty getting back and forth to a clinic, and sometimes the clinic is 30-45 miles away.

The problem is that the claimant has to prove they are disabled. To do so, they first must show they have a medically determinable impairment that is considered severe by Social Security. A person must prove they suffer from a severe impairment before Social Security will go any further when determining whether the claimant is disabled.

But before an impairment can be considered severe, it has to first be found a medically determinable impairment. Social Security defines a medically determinable impairment as “an impairment that results from anatomical, physiological, or psychological abnormalities that can be shown by medically acceptable clinical and laboratory diagnostic techniques.”

In plain English, that means that you have to present medical evidence of a physical or mental impairment. Complaints of a problem without medical evidence will not help the case. Once you present evidence of a medically determinable impairment, Social Security will then consider whether it meets the criteria of a severe impairment. Social Security considers an impairment severe if it causes more than a slight impact on your ability to do basic work activities. At this point, Social Security will consider your complaints of pain and other issues caused by your impairment.

Please give me a call if you are in Monroeville, Evergreen, Atmore, Camden, Thomasville or anywhere in southwest Alabama and need help with your disability claim.

No representation is made that the quality of the legal services to be performed is greater than the quality of legal services performed by other lawyers. The hiring of a lawyer is an important decision that should not be based solely upon advertisements.

The deck is stacked

And it’s not in your favor.

Unless you have been living under a rock for the last 40 years, you know that if you are injured in an automobile accident that was not your fault, you probably are entitled to damages for any injuries you suffer. The attorneys on T.V. tell us this 100 times per day.

But as with most things in the law, it’s never quite as easy as it seems.

Many times fault is easy to determine. Maybe you clearly had the right of way. Sometimes it gets a little fuzzy.

Both drivers were texting when the accident happened.

Hmmm. That changes things.

Most states use a comparative negligence standard that apportions damages based on the percentage of fault. But not Alabama.

Alabama is one of a handful of states that still adheres to the old common law contributory negligence rule.

What is contributory negligence?

Contributory negligence can bar an injured party from recovering anything if they are found to have contributed to the accident or injury. Just to show the absurd results of the contributory negligence rule, in a comparative negligence state, if the plaintiff is 30% negligent and the defendant is 70% negligent in causing damages, the plaintiff could recover up to 70% of the damages.

Seems pretty fair.

In our great state, if the plaintiff is 1% negligent and the defendant is 99% negligent, the contributory negligence rule can prevent the plaintiff from recovering ANYTHING. There are exceptions, but they are few and far between.

Makes around as much sense as a screen door on a submarine, doesn’t it?

If you live in Monroeville, Evergreen or Atmore and are injured, please contact me.

No representation is made that the quality of the legal services to be performed is greater than the quality of legal services performed by other lawyers. The hiring of a lawyer is an important decision that should not be based solely upon advertisements.

5 steps to prove disability

How the Social Security Administration determines whether someone is disabled.

To be disabled, you have to be unable to engage in substantial gainful activity by reason of any medically determinable physical or mental impairment or combination of impairments that can be expected to result in death or that has lasted or can be expected to last for at least 12 consecutive months.

Sounds simple enough, right?

It’s so simple that Social Security uses a five step process to determine whether someone is disabled as defined by their regulations.

The first step requires that you are not performing substantial gainful activity. You can work and be found disabled, but if the amount of money you receive per month is over a listed amount OR the type of work you are doing is totally inconsistent with why you are claiming disability, you will be denied.

The second step is to determine whether you have a severe medical impairment. This is a pretty easy bar to clear because you basically have to show that you have a physical or mental impairment that impacts your ability to perform essential work functions.  A medical professional has to make the diagnosis of the condition.

“My back hurts” is not enough to show a severe impairment.

An x-ray showing degenerative disc disease is.

If you cannot show a severe impairment, your case will be denied.

The third step involves the Listed impairments that Social Security states will automatically prove disability. The Listed impairment are broken down by body systems and require very detailed records. The vast majority of cases do not have the documentation to show a Listed impairment, so the case moves on to the next step.

The fourth step requires Social Security to determine your residual functional capacity, which is what you can do physically and mentally. Social Security then determines whether your past relevant work is precluded by your residual functional capacity.

Let’s say Social Security finds you can only lift up to ten pounds but your past relevant work required you to lift 50 pound. Your past relevant work would be excluded. If your past relevant work only required you to lift five pounds, then it would not be excluded and your case will be denied.

If your past relevant work is excluded, you go to the fifth step, which considers whether your residual functional capacity precludes your ability to work in a job that exists in significant numbers in the national economy.

This is where most Social Security cases are won or lost. Social Security relies on vocational experts to determine what jobs are out there.

If there are a significant number of jobs you can do, your case is denied.

If not, your case is approved.

Easy as pie, right?

Disability and SSI

Please contact the Law Office of Michael Tonder, P.C. if you live in Monroeville, Evergreen, Atmore, or Brewton and your Social Security Disability Insurance application or Supplemental Security Income (SSI) claim was denied.

The disability process is a maze of complicated regulations and administrative rulings. There are deadlines at every step of the process. We’ve handled thousands of disability cases and know the rules and evidence needed to help win your claim.

Remember, you have to prove that you are disabled. You have to present the evidence. You have to convince Social Security that you meet their definition of disability.

Don’t go it alone.

You need experience on your side.

18 Wheeler Accident

If you or a family member are unfortunate enough to be involved in an 18-wheeler or big truck accident in Monroeville, Alabama, or in southwest Alabama, there are many things you must do to make sure you are made right.

The injuries associated with 18-wheeler or big truck accidents are usually very severe. It might take surgeries, therapy, and rehab before you completely heal. The medical expenses can be very high. You will probably miss many days of work and your income will decrease. Your life will not resemble your life prior to the accident.

The trucking company’s insurance will offer a quick settlement that might seem like a lot of money. It’s not. Once you consider all of your doctor bills, ambulance rides, hospital bills, and wages lost, you realize that your case is worth much more than you are being offered.

What should you do? Obviously, I’m going to recommend that you call an attorney located in Monroeville, Alabama. Why? If you hire a local personal injury lawyer, the trucking company knows it can’t get away with injuring you. Lost in all the mounds of documents and evidence is usually that one thing that causes the trucking company or insurance company to sit up and take you seriously. A good attorney will find that evidence.

You never asked to be injured. Make sure everything is made right.

What to expect if you are in a car wreck

Don’t go it alone if you are injured in a car accident.

If you are injured in a car wreck while in Monroeville, Alabama, and it is not your fault, you will be contacted by the other party’s insurance company within a few days. The insurance company will act like it is your friend and that it wants to make everything right. Don’t believe it. The insurance company’s only obligation is to save as much money as it can. It is not worried about how the car wreck disrupted your life and whether your injury will have long-lasting consequences. The insurance company is hoping to make you go away by waiving a few dollars in your face.

What can you do? Obviously, I’m going to recommend that you call an attorney located in Monroeville, Alabama. Why? If you hire a local personal injury lawyer, the insurance company knows it will have to start making fair offers. It cannot keep low-balling you. It knows it will be held accountable.

You never asked to be injured. Make sure everything is made right.

Disabilty due to Seizures

Why is so difficult to be found disabled due to a seizure disorder?

People often call me with questions about disability due to a seizure disorder.  Usually the person has been denied benefits and they are upset because the seizure disorder disrupts their life and they believe they cannot work.

I tell them that Social Security is extremely skeptical of someone filing a claim for benefits due to seizures.  In fact, Social Security takes the view that it is usually the claimant’s fault that their seizure disorder is disabling.   Social Security Ruling 87-6 clearly states:

“Situations where the seizures are not under good control are usually due to the individual’s noncompliance with the prescribed treatment rather than the ineffectiveness of the treatment itself. Noncompliance is usually manifested by failure to continue ongoing medical care and to take medication at the prescribed dosage and frequency. Determination of blood levels of anticonvulsive drugs may serve to indicate whether the prescribed medication is being taken. In a substantial number of cases, use of alcohol has been found to be a contributory basis for the individual’s failure to properly follow prescribed treatment.”

So how do you overcome Social Security’s mindset? I advise my clients to:

1. Create a seizure log.

2. Get statements from people who have witnessed your seizures.

3. Take your medicine and make your doctor appointments.  This is vital.  If you are taking your medications and still having seizures, your doctor will more than likely check your blood to see if your medication levels are ideal.

4. Do not drink alcohol.


Remember, you have the burden of proving you are disabled.

False claim of U.S. citizenship leads to nothing but trouble.

Here lately, I have had to break bad news to people seeking to adjust their status. It usually is because that person falsely asserted U.S. citizenship to their employer.

There is basically one cardinal sin in immigration. Never, EVER, claim to be a U.S. citizen if you are not one. This comes up a lot when an alien states on an I-9 Employment Verification Form that they are a U.S. citizen.  They eventually file for adjustment of status and USCIS reviews the documentation and notices that the applicant lied on the I-9.  USCIS takes this offense seriously and more than likely the applicant will be deported.   There are very few defenses if USCIS seeks to deport someone because they falsely claimed to be a citizen.

Please contact me if you have any questions about an I-9 form or adjustment of status.

The VA denied your claim for service connection. Now what?

While you were in service, you tweaked your left knee.  You only went to the doctor a few times to get it checked out while you were in service. You are not the type of person who complains a lot. You told your buddies when your knee hurt and also complained to your spouse every now and then about it.

You have now been out for five years.  Your knee has started hurting more often.  You eventually see an orthopedist and he recommended surgery for your left knee. You heard some of your old buddies talk about how they are getting compensated for their service-connected impairments.  You decided to apply for benefits because it was obvious that your condition was connected.  You applied.

A few months later you received a Rating Decision that denied your claim.  The VA examiner thought paucity of medical records from when you were in service did not show a connection to your current knee condition.  You were in disbelief, and angry.

What can you do to make sure this decision is corrected? What are you options?

To begin with, you have to realize there is a one-year deadline if a veteran wants to appeal a Rating Decision.  To appeal, the veteran files a Notice of Disagreement with the Regional Office that sent the Rating Decision.  The Notice of Disagreement just has to let the VA know you disagree with their Decision.  There are not many formalities for a Notice of Disagreement.

If you have not already done so, you should also ask the VA for a copy of your file. This contains all the evidence the VA used in deciding your claim.   You should get all of your current medical records and also ask if your current orthopedist will look over your service medical records and opine as to whether your complaints from years ago are as likely as not to be the cause of your current problems.

You will eventually get a chance to tell the VA your side of the story.  It is never too early to start preparing.

Average Wait Times Before Hearing

The most common question asked by disability claimants is “how long will it take for a hearing?” Throughout the years the waiting period has fluctuated.  Currently, the Mobile, Alabama Office of Disability Adjudication and Review takes an average of one year to decide a claim. http://www.ssa.gov/appeals/DataSets/01_NetStat_Report.html Remember, this is the time period from when the Request for Hearing is filed until decision, and not the time period from when you initially apply.

During this waiting period, it is best to see your doctor and submit any and all evidence connected to your disability appeal.   There are also mechanisms that allow the Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) to review your case and determine whether it can be approved without having a hearing.  Usually, this requires submission of evidence that overwhelmingly supports your claim.  Keep in mind that some ALJ’s rarely issue a decision without having a hearing and that your case is randomly assigned to an ALJ.  As with many things, the amount of time you have to wait for a decision can sometimes be determined by the luck of the draw.