Pedro Perales was a truck driver from San Antonio. He was 34 years old, 5’11” in height, and weighed 220 lbs. at the time he stopped working due to what he alleged was a disabling back injury sustained while lifting a heavy object at work. He applied for social security disability insurance benefits.
Unfortunately for Mr. Perales, several medical reports in his case file (including an opinion for one of social security’s own medical consultants) were highly unfavorable to his case. His claim was denied and he appealed.
it so that he was granted a hearing by a hearing examiner (the forerunners of today’s Administrative Law Judges).
At the hearing, Mr. Perales testified and one of his doctor’s testified. His attorney objected to the admission of the unfavorable medical reports on the grounds that they were hearsay and that he did not have the opportunity to cross-examine the authors of those reports because they were not present at the hearing.
Nevertheless, the hearing examiner found that the great weight of the medical evidence showed that Mr. Perales’ back injuries were relatively mild and not completely disabling. He appealed.
Mr. Perales’ case ended up at the United States Supreme Court. The disagreed with Mr. Perales’ arguments, noting several things including: 1) hearsay is admissible in administrative hearings, 2) medical reports are often an ex emotion to the hearsay rule, 3) Mr. Perales had not availed himself of the opportunity to subpoena the doctors who authored the unfavorable medical reports; therefore, he could not now be heard to complain about the lack of opportunity to cross-examine them, 4) the nature of mass adjudication in the south security system would prohibit the vast expense of requiring every doctor who authored a medical report or opinion about a claimant to appear at a hearing, 5) Social Security hearings, by law, were required to be “fair”, and the court had no reason to doubt, based on the record in front of it, that the procedure had been fair.
The dissenting opinion championed the appealing but quixotic cause of arguing that hearsay not subjected to cross examination should not be allowed to trump the direct testimony of a claimant and his doctor, even in the context of an administrative hearing.
See Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389.
The principle of allowing hearsay not subjected to cross examination to prevail over direct testimony is an entrenched feature of disability hearings, and probably most administrative hearings. Administrative law by its very nature is not conducive to the same rigid and formal rules as regular court hearings. The documentary medical evidence is undoubtedly the most important part of a claimant’s disability case to this day.
The good news is that federal rules generally require that greater weight to be given to a claimant’s treating medical providers’ opinions than to opinions from medical sources who have only done a records review or briefly consulted with the claimant.
This material should not be construed as legal advice for any particular fact situation, but is intended for general informational purposes only. For advice specific to any individual situation, an experienced attorney should be contacted.
When it comes the family law and social security disability, each client and case is different. It is also important to select an attorney with the experience, skills and professionalism required to address your legal issues. To learn more, contact the Salt Lake City law offices of Melvin A. Cook and schedule an initial consultation to discuss your case.