Who Determines If I’m Disabled?

POSTED BY Jon Corra . April 23, 2018

We’ve been helping people get their Social Security disability benefits since 1994. That means we’re approaching our 25th year in business. In these 25 years, we have been asked many questions.  For instance, “Who determines if I am disabled?” This is a good question any individual pursuing Social Security disability should ask.

Although your treating physician may indicate that you are disabled, it’s not a guarantee that the Social Security Administration (SSA) will agree.  SSA will consider the information and determine the amount of weight they feel the doctor’s statement should have on the decision.

So, who does determine if you are disabled?  There is not a simple black and white answer to this question. Instead, there are infinite shades of grey that will eventually determine if you’re disabled or not. The SSA uses a five-step process to determine if an individual is approved for disability benefits.

The first step in the process is simple: they will ask if you are currently working at the current SGA level. For those who may not be aware, SGA stands for Substantial Gainful Activity. The SSA states that SGA is as follows:

A person who is earning more than a certain monthly amount is ordinarily considered to be engaging in SGA. The amount of monthly earnings considered as SGA depends on the nature of a person’s disability. The Social Security Act specifies a higher SGA amount for statutorily blind individuals; Federal regulations specify a lower SGA amount for non-blind individuals. Both SGA amounts generally change with changes in the national average wage index.

So, if you’re engaging in SGA, you will likely be denied at step 1 in the SSA process without SSA even looking at your medical evidence

If you’re not engaging in SGA, your claim will proceed to step 2 in the process: do you have a severe physical or mental impairment or combination of severe impairments?  SSA defines a severe impairment as an abnormality that causes more than a minimal effect on your ability to work.  SSA also requires that your impairment will cause such effect on your ability to work for 12 months or longer.

If SSA deems your impairment(s) to be severe, your claim will proceed to step 3: do you meet or equal a medical listing?  The SSA maintains a listing of medical criteria that are considered to be so severe that an individual is found to be disabled if his or her medically determinable physical or mental impairment(s) matches them.

If an individual has an impairment that meets or equals one of the listings and meets the duration requirement, he or she is found to be disabled. If an individual does not have an impairment that meets or equals one of the listings or the duration requirement is not met, the adjudicator goes to step 4.

Social Security considers many factors when determining if you’re disabled.

In step 4, the SSA will examine your prior work history. Do the limitations associated with your disabilities keep you from doing the type of work you’ve performed in the past 15 years? This is where your doctor’s input becomes very important.  SSA is looking for more information than your doctor’s opinion that you are disabled and can no longer do your past work.  It is beneficial for your doctor to note what limitations you have because of your disabilities.  For example, how long can you sit, stand, walk, lift, and concentrate?  Would you need to elevate your legs and how often/for how long?  Can you interact with the public or with supervisors?  Would you need to be frequently retrained due to problems with concentration or memory loss?  Would you need extra breaks throughout the day and how often/for how long?  If your doctor does not note these types of limitations, the agency adjudicator will determine your limitations based on the information noted within your medical records.  Your doctor, who has probably evaluated you many times, is going to better know and understand your limitations than an adjudicator who is merely reading your medical records.  If it’s decided that your disability does keep you from working in the field you were formerly employed, the SSA will go on to the 5th and final step: can you do any other type of work?

At this point, the SSA wants to know if you will be able to work and achieve the SGA level in a field that differs from any of previous fields in which you were employed in the past 15 years. This can get very complicated.  Your limitations, along with other vocational factors such as age, education and work experience, will be used to determine if you can work in jobs you haven’t done before.  If it is decided that you cannot do your past work or any other type of work, you will be deemed disabled by SSA.

If you believe you may be disabled and need some help with your claim, call us today for a free consultation. Our toll-free number is 1-877-526-3457. If you can’t talk now, fill out this form so we can contact you at a better time.

Most SUV and Crossover Headlights Fail This New Test

POSTED BY Jon Corra . April 18, 2018

When you are in the process of purchasing your next vehicle, there’s a good chance safety will be a top priority in your selection. Modern cars are safe. They have crash avoidance systems, blind spot monitoring, and some cars even have autonomous features. However, a recent study by the Insurance Institute of Highway Safety found that one of the oldest features of our cars could be making them unsafe.

Every street-legal car must have headlights. Headlights have been a part of passenger cars for more than a century, yet many manufacturers failed a recent headlight evaluation performed by the IIHS. Nearly 40 crossover vehicles were evaluated by the IIHS, yet only two completed the test with a passing score. This may seem odd to anyone with even a basic knowledge of the automotive industry due to the technology and advancements that have been made in headlight manufacturing over the years. For instance, many cars are now available with LED lights that burn brighter and use less energy than traditional bulbs. Other cars have lights that rotate with the car’s steering wheels. So, the news that so many vehicles didn’t pass the test is surprising, to say the least.

Why did so many vehicles fail?

The IIHS is known for their tough automotive tests. The organization also finds new ways to evaluate cars. The IIHS evaluated the headlights in the following manner:

During the Institute’s evaluations, engineers measure how far light is projected from a vehicle’s low beams and high beams as the vehicle travels straight and on curves. Glare from oncoming vehicles is also measured from low beams in each scenario to make sure it isn’t excessive.

The IIHS also stated that a car can be configured many different ways depending on trim level. Some may assume that a high-end model will perform better than its base counterpart, but that was not the case with the Kia Sorento. The high-end SXL trim of the Kia Sorento can be equipped with cure adaptive headlights. However, the IIHS found that the headlights failed to illuminate well on a straight stretch as well as left turns and gradual right turns. For instance, the Sorento’s low-beam headlights only illuminate a distance of 148 feet. In contrast, the Volvo XC 60, which was one of only two vehicles to pass this test, can illuminate 315 feet in the same scenario. The other vehicle that passed the test was the Hyundai Santa-Fe which, ironically, has the same parent company as the  Sorento, and the two vehicles share a common platform.

Why is this important?

When you test-drove your last car, did you test it at night, or did you drive it during the day? Chances are you did the latter. Most consumers don’t test the headlights when purchasing a car. Did you know approximately half of all fatal accidents occur at night?

Keep the two cars mentioned above in mind for this scenario: the Volvo illuminates twice as far as the Kia. So, if you’re driving down the interstate at night, the Volvo will illuminate an object in the road 150 feet sooner than the Kia. So, let’s say you’re approaching a disabled car which has suddenly stopped. In the Volvo, you’ll have twice as much time to avoid the car than you would in the KIA. If you can see something sooner, you can stop sooner.

Car safety is very important. However, you cannot control what other motorists do. If you’ve been hurt in an accident, call our team to discuss your options. There is no upfront cost for our consultation. Our toll-free number is 1-877-526-3457. If you’d rather be called at a specific time, fill out this form so that a member of our team can call you at a time that’s best for you.

What Happens If You’re Injured On A Cruise?

POSTED BY Jon Corra . April 11, 2018

Here in West Virginia, we’ve had a tough winter. Mother Nature showed no mercy when she hit the Mid-Ohio Valley. It’s safe to say we’re all looking forward to spring, and that it’s time to start planning those early year vacations. For many people, this means taking a cruise this spring. Cruises can be a lot of fun, but they aren’t without incident. Many news stories over the past 5 years have detailed a lot of the more dramatic accidents that have occurred on cruise ships. While those large-scale disasters are rare, it’s important to know what you should do if you’re injured on a cruise this year.

The Statute of Limitations is much different for a personal injury on a cruise.

Some people may worry that they can’t pursue legal action against a cruise line because of the disclaimer they sign when they purchase a ticket. However, a legal disclaimer isn’t going to prevent all legal action. There is a difference between getting seasick on a cruise ship and receiving a physical injury due to negligence. Proving negligence is an important part of many personal injury claims, and the same is true when you’re injured on a cruise ship.

It’s important to keep the statute of limitations in mind when you’re injured on a cruise. Don’t put off filing a claim too long because it could hinder your case down the road. There are some roadblocks while you are on a cruise because there is a good chance that you are far from home. Further, unless the injury is serious enough to require evacuation by helicopter, you’ll likely have to wait a while until the ship returns to port before you can do much. However, the statute of limitations for most personal injury cases is two years. In cases against a cruise liner, you may only have one year to pursue a claim. The best advice is to pursue action as soon as possible. Additional advice:

Seek treatment. Most ships have some sort of medical staff on hand to treat passengers. It’s important to be treated as soon as possible. Treating on the ship is important, but so is treating once you’ve returned to land. If your port is far from your hometown, you may want to treat with a local facility and also follow up with your primary care physician.

Don’t forget to report the incident. This may be more difficult depending on the severity of the injury, but reporting the accident will help with your case. Failing to report the injury will likely work against you. A report will help prove where the injury occurred. If you don’t report it, the cruise line may argue that your injury occurred elsewhere.

Seek witnesses. Most people don’t go on cruises alone. However, if you do, or if your family is not around, you may want to try to find witnesses. You’ll want to get their contact information in case you need their testimony later.

Don’t settle. The cruise line may want to offer you a quick gift or a free cruise to keep you from pursuing legal action, but a severe injury is likely worth more than a free cruise. It may be tempting to accept the first offer, but it almost certainly won’t make up for years of pain and suffering.

Does it matter if the cruise line is owned by a foreign company? For the most part, this shouldn’t be an issue. However, every case is different, and it depends upon which country is the home base for the cruise company. Regardless, don’t let the foreign ownership keep you from pursuing a claim.

Cruises are a lot of fun, but they can be hazardous. Knowing what to do if you’re injured can prove beneficial. If you’ve been injured on a cruise, call us today for a free consultation at our toll-free number is 1-877-526-3457. If you can’t talk now, fill out this form so that a member of our team can call you at a better time.

A Comprehensive List of Insurance Terms

POSTED BY Jon Corra . April 04, 2018

Unless you happen to work in the industry, auto insurance can be complicated. With so many options, it’s good to have a basic understanding of the different types of coverage available. For instance, if you have a car worth $65,000, and someone with liability coverage of only $50,000 totals your car , what happens? Do you have enough underinsured motorist coverage to cover the rest of the damages? And does your insurance include medical payments coverage? These are important questions to ask but, if you’re not even sure what these policies mean, it may be difficult to have a conversation with your insurer about them. Our guide below explains the most common types of coverage.

Bodily Injury Liability

Having the proper coverage for your vehichle can make a big difference.

If another person is injured because of your carelessness or the carelessness of someone driving your car, this coverage typically requires your insurance company to pay the claim.

The company’s obligation is limited, however, to the amount of coverage you purchased.  In West Virginia for example, the minimum of $20,000 per person and $40,000 per accident must be purchased and your company will pay no more than $20,000 to each injured person and no more than $40,000 total for any one accident.  You could be held personally responsible for any damages above the amount of your insurance coverage.  You may see shorthand references to liability insurance limits as 20/40, etc.  We always recommend that our clients purchase additional coverage. It’s surprisingly inexpensive to increase your liability coverage above the minimum required by law.

Property-Damage Liability

This is similar to bodily injury liability except that it covers damage to another person’s property rather than physical injuries.  The company’s obligation to pay is also limited to the amount of coverage you buy.  The minimum property damage coverage in West Virginia is $10,000.  So, shorthand references to liability and property damage coverage combined may be written as 20/40/10.  Again, we recommend that our clients increase their property damage coverage above the minimum required by law.

Comprehensive

This category of protection generally requires your insurance company to pay for damage to your car caused by something other than an auto accident (for example fire, theft, or vandalism).  The company’s obligation to you will be limited by the amount of any “deductible” you may have purchased.  A $100 deductible means that you pay the first $100, then the company pays the rest.

Collision

This type of coverage means that your insurance company pays for damage to your car caused by an auto accident.  Deductibles also are common with this coverage.

Medical Payments Coverage

Your insurance company will pay the reasonable medical expenses of anyone in your car who is injured in an accident.  Under this coverage, it does not matter who was at fault in the collision.  You and most members of your household need not be in a car for this coverage to apply.  For example, you would also be covered if struck by a car while you were a pedestrian.  As with liability insurance, the company’s obligation is limited to the amount of coverage you buy.  Medical payments coverage is available in West Virginia and is available regardless of who is found to be at fault in an accident. This coverage is not mandatory.

Underinsured Motorist

If a driver injures you or your car’s occupants, and his or her liability insurance is insufficient to cover the full value of your claims for physical injuries, this coverage will pay your claims for physical injuries.  It serves as a substitute for the bodily injury liability insurance that the other driver did not have.  This coverage also is limited to the amount of insurance you buy.  As with personal injury protection coverage, payment is not limited to automobile occupants.

Uninsured Motorist

If a driver injures you or your car’s occupants, and has no liability insurance to cover your claims for physical injuries, this coverage will take care of your claims.  Again, your company’s obligation is limited to the amount of coverage you purchase.  Like personal injury protection and underinsured motorist coverage, it is not limited to automobile occupants.

Insurance can be confusing, and claims can be tough. You probably wouldn’t want to fight an insurance company on your own. If you’ve been injured in a car accident, give us a call today for a free consultation. Our toll-free number is 1-877-526-3457. If you can’t talk now, fill out this form and we will contact you at a better time.

Social Security Q and A #1

POSTED BY Jon Corra . March 12, 2018

Jon Corra: Alright everyone. Welcome to our live Q & A with attorney Yvonne Costelloe. We’re taking Social Security questions today, so if you’re interested in something with Social Security please don’t hesitate to make a comment and we will try to answer that as quickly as possible. Yvonne’s been with us for quite a while, seven years if I’m not mistaken.

Yvonne Costelloe: It’s going to be six-

Jon Corra: … Six years, and you’ve only been a social security attorney right? Your whole career.

Yvonne Costelloe: Well, for legal purposes yeah, I’ve worked solely with Jan Dils as a Social Security disability attorney.

Jon Corra: Where did you go to school?

Yvonne Costelloe: I went to law school at the University of Dayton, School of Law, and undergrad I went to Mercy First University, which is in Erie, Pennsylvania.

Jon Corra: What has it meant … I know you’re passionate, I think every one of your clients would say you’re passionate about Social Security, and you could have chosen any type of law. What made you decide Social Security was the way to go?

Yvonne Costelloe: I came from a background working a lot with social services, working with developmentally disabled, dual-diagnosis in the mental health field, community outreach and I really enjoyed it. I enjoyed helping people in their everyday lives, working directly with them, and so, an opportunity like this to be able to, hopefully, step up and really help people financially bring in that income, and who are deserving its just a great fit for me. I am able to do more for the same type of individuals and help get the benefits that they really deserve and that they need for them and their families.

Jon Corra: How awesome, I think we can agree that a lot of people in our firm especially are just driven to help people that’s why we have so many people who stay here for so long. So once again, if you have a question about Social Security do not hesitate to put it down in the comments. We are going to try to answer as many questions as we can today. We do have a few that were submitted ahead of time, and since Yvonne’s an attorney we haven’t actually done a Q & A with one of our attorneys yet. I personally want to know what can someone expect when they go to a hearing? What is it like? What’s the dynamic there? Is it like what they see on Judge Judy or is it completely different?

Yvonne Costelloe: It’s funny you say that because the first thing I say to almost every one of my clients when we talk about what to expect is not Judge Judy. This isn’t the People’s Court, that’s kind of my citation with everything. This isn’t what you think when you watch TV or you watch movies, it’s more of a conference. There’s two different ways the hearing will take place; it’ll either be by video where you’ll go into a room, like a conference room, and when you go there’ll be a big flat screen TV and the judge will be on the TV screen and he may have his expert on there, or the expert will be by phone, and then you’ll be in a room with your attorney and then also with a court reporter, or a hearing reporter. That person’s job is really solely just to record the hearing. They won’t ask anything, and then everything will go by video. Or, if you’re in person, if you’re at one of the locations like in Charleston or in Dayton or in one of the locations where there is a hearing office, then you’ll be in person with the judge and it will be you, the judge, your attorney, and then the vocational expert.

Yvonne Costelloe: When you go in, there is some formalities, you have to swear in. They’ll have you raise your right hand, swear in that you’re gonna tell the truth. This is a court hearing so you have to be honest. And then from there, every judge is a little bit different. Most of the time an attorney will have the opportunity to make an opening statement, talk a little bit about what to expect, or talk a little bit about what … talk a little bit about your record and argue the outline of what’s going on in your situation and your case. From there, most judges will either have the attorney ask questions, or you’ll ask questions, or they’ll ask questions. And these will be things you’ll talk about at the pre-hearing.

Yvonne Costelloe: They want to know how your conditions affect you. They want to hear it directly from your mouth, and how your pain effects you, or how your mental health symptoms impact your daily activities. Do you have a hard time standing or walking? Are you unable to engage in activities with your family? And a lot of that we talk with the clients ahead of time at the pre-hearing and that’s why sometimes the pre-hearings are a bit challenging but that’s why we do it. We want to ask you those questions when its just you and I on the phone, or in person so you know what to expect. And then from there the judge may have some followup or the attorney may have some followup and then we go to the vocational expert.

Yvonne Costelloe: Sometimes there’s medical experts at a hearing and they won’t … they’re not going to examine you during the hearing or ask you any questions but they’re gonna go through and look at … they’ll have looked at your medical records and make an opinion about what they see in the medical records to help the judge and your attorney. The vocational expert is going to testify about jobs. In order to be found disabled, in pretty much every case, we have to prove that you can’t do any work in the economy. So, it’s not like other claims like workers comp, where maybe you just have to prove that you can’t do the work you used to do, we have to get rid of all jobs and that’s why the vocational expert’s there. And so the judge and the attorney will ask them what’s called hypotheticals.

Yvonne Costelloe: So they’ll say, you know for example, John, if you were going into a hearing and maybe you had had an amputation, you lost an arm in an accident or something, then a hypothetical could be, you know, if we had somebody at the same age and education as John, the claimant, and they lost a limb, is there jobs they could perform and the vocational expert will say yes or no, and if they say yes, they’ll give examples. And that’s the most confusing part of the hearing for most people because they’re listing numbers and jobs and they’ve never heard of these jobs before but, your attorney is well equipped to handle that and will handle it. They’re not going to expect you to respond to that. At the very end the judge may give [inaudible 00:05:36] an opportunity to close out and make a closing. Some do, some don’t, every judge is different. But then the one thing that’s most important, that most people are not aware of coming in is that you don’t get a decision that day. The attorney may have an inclination of what’s going to happen or the judge may say, yeah, I think I’m going to find you disabled but nothing’s final until it comes in writing.

Yvonne Costelloe: We always, even when the judge says in a hearing that yes, you are gonna be found disabled or I am gonna find you favorably, I still tell the client, I give you a 99.9 because we wanna get it in writing, we want to see it come in the mail.

Jon Corra: Mm-hmm (affirmative)

Yvonne Costelloe: And usually that takes 30 to 60 days, it can take up to four months after the hearing is over. So, that’s pretty much, kind of in a nutshell, how it goes and what to expect but, definitely, not like the People’s Court, there’s no yelling or gavel slamming or anything like that going on.

Jon Corra: And they don’t … most people don’t receive a judgment that day, correct?

Yvonne Costelloe: Exactly. Yeah, we expect it to come in writing so even if the judge does say they’re gonna find you disabled, we still have to get it in writing because it’s not final until it comes in writing.

Jon Corra: Okay. One of the questions we get asked quite a bit is about grid rules and I’ve done some personal research about this and I personally find it confusing. I know all of our clients, I believe, find it confusing as well. Can you describe what grid rules are and how they affect Social Security?

Yvonne Costelloe: Right, so the grid rules are a special set of regulations that come into play because the Social Security office or the Administration takes into consideration your age, your education, and the type of work you used to do. Technically, the grid rules can apply when you’re young but they’re not helpful until you’re generally about 50 years old.

Yvonne Costelloe: I always tell clients that generally 50 and 55 are the magic numbers where a lot of things can change. There’s some exceptions to that and that’s getting a little complicated. But, what starts to happen is when you turn 50 and then when you turn 55 they start to recognize that you don’t have the same ability to step back into certain types of work. So, what they’ll look at is they’ll look at your age, the type of education you have will affect you. If you have a high school diploma or not, or if you have a college degree or not and then the type of work you used to do.

Yvonne Costelloe: And this becomes a big issue or really comes into play a lot of times when I have clients that change age categories so you go from being 49 to 50 or you go from being 54 to 55. That can make a huge difference in your claim. So, for example, if I have somebody, let’s say, 48 when they applied for benefits and they’re past work, they did all heavy work, we’ll say they’re a coal miner, we work with a lot of coal miners. They’ve only ever been a coal miner and Social Security said, okay, we know you’ve only been a coal miner but we think you can do sit down work. We know you’ve got some back issues and neck issues but you can do sit down work.

Yvonne Costelloe:  Well, maybe by the time they get to hearing, they’ve turned 50, at that point they may be then found disabled because Social Security doesn’t expect a 50-year-old who’s never done sit down work or never had a job where there’s skills they can do that would be equivalent to sit down work and they’re limited to sit down work, they understand that you’re gonna have a really difficult time finding a sit down job and so you … if that’s the situation, you can be found disabled.

Yvonne Costelloe:            And I think that comes up a lot when I have clients say, okay, you know, you’ve changed age categories or sometimes judges will offer to say, listen, I think you’re disabled but I don’t think you became disabled until you turned 55 and that’s really confusing but that’s because of those grid rules and they’re very powerful and it can be … it’s one of the more solid aspects of the disability claim where we can say, hey, this and this apply and therefore this person should be found disabled but that’s why age is so important and can make such a big difference especially if you’re changing age categories during your claim.

Jon Corra: One thing I think a lot of people don’t realize is how complicated Social Security is as a whole. One thing, if it was easy, everyone would do it and if it was easy it wouldn’t take so long.

Jon Corra: We do have a quick question from one of our audience members, Mr. Davis, and you may not know the answer to this but, you know how people get the statement from Social Security every year saying if you became disabled this year you would make X amount of dollars …

Yvonne Costelloe: Correct.

Jon Corra: He wants to know if those are completely accurate and how much they come into play?

Yvonne Costelloe: They’re pretty accurate so when we look at somebody that is Title II eligible, meaning that they’ve worked and they’ve paid into Social Security, they’ve paid taxes, they’re building almost like an insurance plan where, if they become disabled, they’re gonna get paid back and the more you pay into it, I guess, the more will make and the longer you work the more you’re gonna be able to get back from that.

Yvonne Costelloe: I think the maximum is $25 or $2,600 dollars and what happens is when they send you that statement, that’s what I always tell clients, is a rough estimate. So it’s … What happens is if you’re found disabled, they do go back and recalculate and make sure everything is correct but, generally, it’s gonna be really, really close to that number. It does go up a little bit each year due to cost of living and things like that, adjustments, but pretty much that’s pretty much about what you’re gonna expect, somewhere very close to that range.

Jon Corra: And I think it probably goes back to because we’re the one paying into the Social Security tax each year. They base it off that, it’s not just … they’re not just pulling anything …

Yvonne Costelloe:  Nope, it’s based on your work history and also how much you’re making so the only time I’ve really seen people come and get a $25 or $26 … I think it’s $2,500 dollar, we call it the PIA, is when they’ve made significant earnings over an extended period of time.

Jon Corra: Okay. Mr. Davis, thank you so much for your question.

Yvonne Costelloe: Yes. Thank you.

Jon Corra: If anyone else has a question, please do not hesitate whatsoever to chime in, we’ve got our iPhone’s here, our watches and everything so we can catch your questions. One thing I want to ask you because I’m always thrown off by the alphabet soup that is Social Security and I’m sure if you have anyone who’s getting the aid, disability, watching, same problem there, all these acronyms confuse you.

Jon Corra: So, there’s two things that you’ll see, almost everyone will see in a case, that’s an ALJ and a DE, or a disability examiner, and of course, ALJ is an administrative law judge. What’s the difference between those two because they have similar jobs, correct?

Yvonne Costelloe: Well, kind of. When we’re looking at a disability examiner, that’s somebody that generally is just looking at the opinions that are made by the doctors so, when you apply for disability what Social Security will do is send your medical records to one of their examiners who will review it and they’ll make an opinion. So, sometimes clients say, oh, I got a decision and they’re talking about Dr. Joe and I don’t know who Dr. Joe is, I never saw him. And it’s usually one of the doctors that Social Security has reviewed your case. And what’ll happen then is they’ll review that, they’ll have a vocational specialist who will review your work history and then the examiners come in and they’ll make a decision on what your capacity is based on those two things combined on whether or not a finding of disability should be established.

Yvonne Costelloe: The difference between them and an ALJ is an administrative law judge is the one that you’re actually gonna go in front of with your attorney. Most of the time you don’t go in front of a disability examiner but with the ALJ they have … they can, they’re not bound by the prior decisions. They’re gonna make their own independent decision so, although those decisions are there, they’re not, they don’t have to follow them. They’re also gonna have additional evidence and also, when you’re before an ALJ, that’s the first time your attorney has an opportunity to really discuss the medical records with the judge, to make comments about what was found by them.

Yvonne Costelloe: Oftentimes, when I look back and the first step I always do when finding if a client is disabled is to look at what happened, why did they get denied and that’s the first way before court, is you gotta plug the holes in the boat, is what I always say so, I look for those holes. Why did this client get denied and is that accurate? And to look back and say, hey your honor, you know I understand that they found this but, that’s not correct or we have this new information and the ALJ is able to make those determinations and the ALJ determination is really more final.

Yvonne Costelloe: At that point, you know, then we’re looking at appealing up to the Appeals Council or federal district court after that.

Jon Corra: Awesome, thank you for that, for sure. Once again, anyone, if you have questions please don’t hesitate to ask. I see we have several people watching right now. Thanks to everyone who’s tuned in. We do have a few more questions asked of Ms. Costelloe here though.

Jon Corra: One thing that we’ve discussed a lot downstairs, by that meaning if you’re not in the office of Social Security is because downstairs mostly, VA’s upstairs … Auxiliary benefits, I hear that word thrown around quite a bit, especially after people get approved but, I think, if you’re not in the system you might not know what auxiliary benefits are. Can you describe that to us?

Yvonne Costelloe: Auxiliary … and the question leads in perfectly when the gentleman earlier was asking about the amount that they’d get paid, what happens is there’s two amounts. There’s one amount that’s kinda the individual PIA and then there’s something called a family max and he may have seen that on his statement if he was looking at it. The difference between those two is the auxiliary benefit amount. And what happens at that point is if you have a child that’s a minor, and by minor we mean a child that’s under the age of 18 or if they are up to age 19 and still in high school, then they can qualify to get these auxiliary benefits. It’s essentially divided evenly between all your dependent children.

Yvonne Costelloe: So, if you have 10 dependent children or one dependent child, it’s the equal amount and that is divided evenly between those children and there are times where step-children and some other situations can also be qualified and that’s kind of an individual situation that we can address if need be but, that amount would be distributed if the child … Essentially it’s distributed to the child’s caretaker so if the child is at home, then it would come into the home or if the child is living at a separate residence then whoever that child’s guardian or custodial parent is and that is just another way for them to understand, or for I guess, for Social Security to understand that there needs to be additional funds for that minor child and that’s essentially what auxiliary benefits, what they do for your family and the eligibility of those.

Jon Corra: Okay, great. Donna has an interesting question. Donna, thanks for commenting. She said that she received her first check on December 1st, obviously, she was approved and congratulations on that, so she received her first check December 1st, she has not received her back pay yet. So, on average, how long does it take for an individual to receive back pay?

Yvonne Costelloe: So, back pay is done on two different levels. If somebody is gonna get SSI back pay, that’s generally done at the state level and if they’re getting SSDI back pay, and I know this is getting a little complicated but, that’s generally done at the federal level. So, it just depends on how fast, usually, somebody’s gonna have their back pay by the time they get their first payment and if there’s a delay then there can be a couple of different reasons why. It could that there’s some kind of processing issue or it could be that there’s, there could be a lien or something like that, that could be affecting it.

Yvonne Costelloe: The best thing to do is if you’ve got … started getting your payments and you’re still wondering where that’s at, you can certainly contact our office and there’s oftentimes where there are delays and then our case managers will work directly with you to see why there’s delays and what we can do. But, generally, you should see your back pay, I think it’s generally up to 120 days after your decision is pretty typical but, again, things happen and it wouldn’t be … and that’s what we’re, again, still here for you, still here to work with you even though we’ve been able to get you a favorable decision, we do continue to work with you and our case managers are excellent at that.

Yvonne Costelloe: So, Donna, the best thing I would suggest is if it’s been more than that, contact your case manager and discuss that with them and they can certainly look into that for you no problem at all.

Jon Corra: And we want to remember, sometimes, most days get mangled so …

Yvonne Costelloe: Never been heard of, John. It does happen and we continue and that’s all included in our representation. We’re not gonna send you a separate bill or anything for that so, certainly call in and we will work with you.

Jon Corra: We apologize for the technical difficulties there. Of course, you know when you have a Social Security claim, you’re gonna have all kinds of issues along the way so, this is no different, we’re used to little hiccups along the way.

Jon Corra:  One last question we wanted to ask. Yvonne wanted to ask, just explain in more detail. Why is the backlog taking so long for so many people?

Yvonne Costelloe: And that’s a big one, that’s the biggest complaint from every single client and not just from the clients but for us, as your representatives, and the frustration of it is that it does take a long time. In general, the average wait time from hearing is about 600 plus days and that’s nationwide and a lot of that has to do with the Administration and I think it’s really important to clarify that it’s not your firm, especially for us, it’s not us, that we’re not ready to go and we’re not willing to go, it’s a matter of getting Social Security to get those hearings scheduled. Jan, and everyone in the firm has been great about making sure we have attorneys ready to go and ready to take … participate in these hearings but, what happens is they have, currently have a backlog with regard to hiring, with judges and those that need to process the claims in the Administration and they also have a budget that really hasn’t changed from my understanding and so there’s a lot of complications there.

Yvonne Costelloe: The Social Security office is the one that decides when the hearings are generally gonna be scheduled and the hearings are pretty much scheduled based on, for the most part, your application date and your initial reconsideration determination. There’s some exceptions to that and there is some opportunities where we can try to get that sped up. We do, do everything we can internally, as attorneys, for our claimant that if we think that somebody meets special requirements, either because of the dire need, it’s called Dire Need Application where there are issues of homelessness or bills being shut off. We try to get those processed or if somebody has a condition that meets a certain level of severity. Now every one of our clients has severe, significant medical issues that they’re going through but, in some circumstances, where that person has certain criteria that Social Security has something called a book of listing and in some circumstances where somebody has a very, very cut and dry condition, if they have cancer that’s metastasized or if they have certain findings on a pulmonary function test or sometimes things of those natures that we will try to get those approved ahead of time as well. But other than that, general rule, it is taking up to two years in some cases, if not longer.

Yvonne Costelloe:  Same thing with the Appeals’ Council, if they just go in the order they are received and the Administration has to process those applications and have to prep those cases to a certain point before they’ll even approach us about getting it scheduled but we, generally, one of the good things about the way our firm functions and the way the support staff that we have here is once they say we’re ready to schedule, we’re generally ready to schedule. We take these hearings and we do everything we can to make sure that we have attorneys available in a wide variety of areas to make sure that we can get those clients up and running when their hearing is scheduled. We always make sure we can get there and make sure that’s taken care of. I think we’ve done an excellent job of that as a firm and making sure people get in there and doing everything we can to make sure we’re 100% ready to go and the important part about that, for everybody watching, and if you’re watching, you’re probably not going to be the one that might have issues with this, is staying in communication with us because once we get that hearing, once we get the hearing date scheduled, we know generally before you do and that’s when things really start moving fast.

Yvonne Costelloe: We have a special development team that’s going to make sure we have all your medical records before you even talk to your attorney. There’s a lot of different wheels that start moving very fast. But, for the most part, the frustration is with the agency and I want people to really understand that the attorneys that are out there, and if another attorney promises you that they can get a hearing faster or generally, that’s not going to be accurate and think that’s a big misconception that floats around of why that wait time is delayed.

Yvonne Costelloe: I certainly think it’s really unfair given the circumstances and what individuals are facing when they are waiting for applications. This isn’t an easy time. This is a time when people are going through financial issues, they have health issues and they’re facing this added stress of not having a determination decision on their case and it’s really unfair but we’re gonna do everything we can to speed that up the way we can or any way that we could and make sure that when it comes time to go to your hearing that we wind up ready to go, ready to get everything moving at that point.

Jon Corra:  Mr. Davis has another question and I can field this one. He wanted to know if once he gets approved if he can file for VA disability. We’re happy to give a consultation for that, for sure. We have the staff here that’s prepared to answer that question. There is no general yes or no, we always like to take everyone on a case by case basis so, just be sure to give us a call at that point and we’ll be happy to give you that consultation. We might be able to help you with that.

Yvonne Costelloe: And we have a lot of clients that have both claims moving at once. I handle a lot of clients where we’ve gotten their VA disability approved and now we’re working on their Social Security disability. Those are kind of two different beasts but certainly, if you have questions, we have a great intake team that can answer those questions and we’ll be able to address that.

Jon Corra: Awesome. Well, everyone, thank you so much for tuning in today. For those who asked questions, we appreciate it. We’ll be doing this again in February so look for a date and time soon and, once again, thanks so much for watching. Have a good day.

 

Get To Know Our Original Golden Apple Award Winner

POSTED BY Jon Corra . March 02, 2018

In January, we finally awarded our 100th Golden Apple Award. Nici Kunze Liotti received the award in January 2018. However, 12 years and 99 winners came before her. When we were planning our 100th Winner celebration, we wanted to go back to the first time. We wanted to catch up with our first winner.

In 2006, Tammy McKnight was a mathematics teacher at Hamilton Junior High School. (Now Hamilton Middle School.) She stated that she remembers the award ceremony quite well. She states that she knew something was up because the principal told the teachers to prepare for an assembly, but wouldn’t tell the teachers why there was an assembly. Mrs. McKnight recalled that her friend Pam Reeves kept telling the students that Hannah Montana was coming to the school. (In 2006 Hannah Montana was a fictional character portrayed by Miley Cyrus on the Disney Channel.)  She then recalled sitting at the assembly with her fellow teachers. She then described the moments during the reading of the nomination. Her friend, Kathy Morehead, kept telling her that she knew it was her.

We asked Mrs. McKnight if she remembered who nominated her, and she stated that she did. It was the mother of a student who was appreciative of her work. Mrs. McKnight helped a young student who needed some extra help with his work. Mrs. McKnight helped the student with his work after class.

[youtube url=”https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EeQt_F5eGmg” width=”500″ height=”380″]

During our conversation, we wanted to learn what Mrs. McKnight was up to now. It turns out Mrs. McKnight isn’t a teacher anymore. Instead, she works for Wood County Schools. When she left Hamilton Middle School, Mrs. McKnight worked as an Instructional Coach. She then transitioned to an Innovation and Improvement Specialist. In this position, she works with teachers and schools to help them better improve the curriculum for students.

We had a lot of fun catching up with Mrs. McKnight. We encourage you to watch her entire interview posted above. Tammy McKnight set the bar high for the 99 winners who were to follow. We appreciate her time, and we’re so glad that she stopped by to talk to us.

Mike Fallon wins the January 2018 Golden Apple Award

POSTED BY Jon Corra . March 02, 2018

It’s safe to say our Golden Apple Award winners are popular at their school. They are often a favorite with students, parents, and other teachers. However, sometimes a teacher is a favorite in a much bigger sense. Our January 2018 Golden Apple Winner showed us that a teacher can have an impact that reaches far beyond the classroom.

Our 101st Golden Apple Award winner is Mike Fallon of Martin Elementary School. Mr. Fallon is also the basketball coach at Parkersburg South High School. Mr. Fallon is known for being a great teacher, and a great coach, but he goes far beyond the classroom and the court to help his students. Mr. Fallon, along with his team, and other members of the community, organizes events to help raise money and awareness for two students in the MOV battling illness.

Anna Gordon is currently battling Friedreich’s Ataxia, a life-shortening neuro-muscular disorder. Hailley Parsons is a student who has battled childhood cancer for many years. Mr. Fallon has worked with both young ladies. He’s helped organize charity games, and is one of the biggest supporters of “Anna’s Army,” and “Hailley Strong.”

[youtube url=”https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LC-XGpGyRgg&t=16s” width=”500″ height=”380″]

Anna and Hailley were both on hand for the presentation. Also, the Parkersburg South High School boys’ basketball team were there, as well as Mr. Fallon’s family.

Mr. Fallon’s has been very popular. Weeks after the announcement, we continue to receive positive comments about him on our Facebook page.

Congrats Mr. Fallon. You are a deserving winner.

Celebrating 100 Golden Apple Winners

POSTED BY Jon Corra . March 02, 2018

Since 2006, we’ve honored teachers in the Mid-Ohio Valley with the Jan Dils, Attorneys at Law Golden Apple Award. Every month during the school year, one deserving teacher is selected to receive this honor. The winner is selected from a group of nominees. Traditionally, the winning teacher is one who goes the extra mile to serve their students. After reviewing past winners, we realized that our 100th winner was soon approaching. We learned our December 2017 winner would be our 100th winner.

December is a tough month for the Golden Apple Award. Students in the Mid-Ohio Valley aren’t in school for an extended period in December. So, we usually announce the winner during the first week of January. That was the plan. However, Mother Nature had a different plan. Snow forced us to postpone the award ceremony. So, we postponed it until mid-January. Mother Nature decided to throw snow at us again during the 2nd ceremony. We won’t take snow for an answer, so we postponed this award to the end of January.

[youtube url=”https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=d4E917_FNVM&t=6s” width=”500″ height=”380″]

Finally, on January 26th, 2018, we were able to award the 100th Golden Apple Award to a deserving teacher. The 100th winner is Nici Kunze Liotti from Parkersburg High School. Mrs. Liotti was selected for many reasons. She has been known as a teacher who will give up her time to help her students. She offers her classroom for students who need a quiet place to study. Mrs. Liotti has been teaching for 18 years. She’s even been known to help kids who may need a meal during a time of need.

Mrs. Liotti is a deserving teacher, and we couldn’t think of anyone better to be our 100th Golden Apple Winner.

Bike Accidents: What to Do After the Crash

POSTED BY Jon Corra . February 27, 2018

Today, more and more people are taking to the streets. Fortunately, more and more cities are adding bike lanes to encourage this environmentally-friendly and heart-healthy means of getting from point A to B. Of course, if you’re a biker, you have to be on your guard. The good news is that most bicycle accidents do not involve cars. However, if you are hit by a car, it is so important to keep your wits about you as what you do in the immediate aftermath may have a big impact on how much you recover for your injuries and damage to your bike. It may also affect the outcome of any lawsuits resulting from the accident.

Wait for the Police to Arrive

It is vital that you wait for police to arrive at the accident scene so that they can take and file a police report – even if you think you are not injured. Some cyclists don’t realize they’ve been injured until several hours after the accident. And sometimes seemingly minor injuries later develop into serious and permanent problems. If you leave the accident scene, you may never be able to identify the at-fault driver.

Don’t attempt to negotiate with the driver. Many drivers initially apologize and accept blame, only to later deny their negligence or even deny they were present at the accident. Instead, wait for the police to come so they can document everything in the police report. Another advantage of waiting for the police: They may ticket the driver, which may be useful in settling the case with the insurance company.

Get Your Version of Events into the Accident Report

Sometimes, the police officer will take a statement from the motorist and not bother to talk to the cyclist. Do every­thing you can to get your side of the story into the police report. And by all means, report all of your injuries, no matter how minor. Remember, those minor injuries may later become more serious.

If despite your efforts, the police refuse to include your statement in the accident report, you can later have the report amended.

Obtain Driver and Witness Contact Information

If possible, get the name of the automobile driver, as well as his or her address, phone number, driver’s license number, vehicle license number, and insurance information. In addition, try to get names and contact information for everyone who witnessed the accident. Don’t assume the police report will include all of this information — it might not. If you are injured and cannot get this information yourself, ask a bystander to do it for you.

Document What Happened

If you can, make mental notes about the accident: what happened; how it happened; where it occurred; when it occurred; and road, traffic, and weather conditions. Then, as soon as you are able, write all this information down.

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Document Your Injuries

Seek immediate medical attention for your injuries, even if they are minor. The fact that you sought medical attention will serve as proof that you were injured, and medical records will document the extent of those injuries. Have several photos taken of your injuries as soon as possible after the accident. Start a jour­nal of your physical symptoms and make entries every few days.

Preserve Evidence

Leave your bike and other damaged property in the same state as after the accident – don’t attempt to fix anything or have anything inspected. Don’t wash your clothing. And don’t send your bike, helmet, or any other equipment to anyone other than your attorney. Take photos of your damaged equipment.

Seek Advice from a Professional

Many accidents between bikes and cars involve complex legal issues. If you have any question, please contact Jan Dils, Attorneys at law for a free consultation. We have decades of Personal Injury experience – including bike accident cases. In the interim, do not commu­nicate with the insurance companies before contacting our team. Anything you say to the insurance company could be used against you later. Sometimes a letter from an attorney to the insurance company will resolve issues while avoid­ing legal pitfalls. In fact, most injury cases are settled without ever going to trial. If the case warrants it, we can hire a bike accident expert to investigate the accident. That expert might obtain skid mark measurements, photograph the scene, speak with additional witnesses, or measure and diagram the accident scene. In summary, if you ride, know that Jan Dils is always on your side!

Semitrailer Underride Guard Test Results Show Concern for Motorists

POSTED BY Jon Corra . February 15, 2018

80,000 pounds. That is the maximum weight of a semi-truck in the United States. The weight of the average passenger car in the US? 3,000 to 4,000 pounds.

It is common knowledge that bad wrecks and fatalities can occur when a semi-truck hits a passenger car. But what happens when the tables are turned? What chance does a regular car have when it impacts a semi-truck? More specifically, what chance does it have if it hits the rear of the trailer portion or the side of the trailer?

In recent years the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) has asked these questions on a “semi” regular basis. Many are familiar with the IIHS from their appearances on the hit television series Dateline. They originally created stricter crash tests that went further than government regulations,  starting with a frontal offset test. Now, they test everything from roof stability in rollover accidents to pre-collision warning systems. However, they are currently making waves with their testing of semi-trucks. The IIHS has dedicated a lot of time and money to something they call “Truck underride guard evaluations”. In other words, this group investigates what happens to cars when they impact the sides or rear of semi-trailers. The IIHS recently held their 2nd national meeting and conference on the dangers associated with Truck underride accidents.

[youtube url=”https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mrL7AUMT4To” width=”500″ height=”380″]So why is the IIHS is putting so much effort into studying these accidents? One look at the crash tests will provide a frightening answer. Impacting the side or rear of a semi-trailer can be fatal, even for a car with an excellent safety rating. While every manufacturer is hedging their bets on crossovers and large trucks/SUVs, many Americans still buy cars. Traditional cars, like family sedans for instance, ride lower than a crossover or a truck. It’s easy for a car to become wedged under the trailer if it impacts the trailer from the side or rear. Depending on which trailer manufacturer is impacted, drivers can be decapitated. What the IIHS argues is that these deaths and injuries can be prevented by stronger or reinforced guards.

Currently, there are federal regulations in place for semi-trucks. The rear of every semi-trailer on the road has a guard on it to prevent a car from becoming pinned underneath. Some cars are safer than others, and the same holds true for trailer manufacturers. Some current trailer guards work very well. Others fail. Tragically, those failures can result in the loss of life.

Recently, the IIHS tested trailers from 8 different manufacturers. Each trailer was tested in scenarios mimicking a full impact, 50%, and 30% impacts. The results showed that many trailer manufacturers have made vast improvements over the past several years. However, a few manufacturers failed the test. Complete results can be found here.

Another area of concern: the sides of trailers do not have guards. Some have aftermarket materials in place to increase fuel mileage, but they do not prevent a car from being trapped. The IIHS is currently working on raising awareness for side trailer guards, as well.

Pre-collision safety systems are another issue with semi-trailers that warrants further discussion.  Depending on where the pre-collision warning camera or radar sensor is placed on a car, it may not detect the side of a trailer. If this is the case, the self-braking feature will not activate. This is believed to be the cause of a highly publicized accident involving a Tesla Model S and a semi-truck last year. Regulations for side-guards on trailers could help pre-collision systems work more effectively.

There is good news to report, though. Since the IIHS started their public awareness campaigns, several manufacturers have adapted their rear guards to pass the IIHS standards. Events like the conference bring together individuals with organizations that share the common goal of reducing accidents related to under guards.

To learn more about how the legal team from Jan Dils Attorneys at Law can help after an accident, call today for a FREE consultation. Our toll-free number is 1-877-526-3457. If you can’t talk now, fill out this form and a member of the team can contact you at a better time.