If your claim for disability benefits reaches the hearing level, one of the most important decisions you and your Los Angeles Social Security attorney will make is selecting lay witnesses to testify. Typically, a claimant chooses close friends, family members, or co-workers with in-depth knowledge of the claimant’s impairment. While your witnesses’ knowledge of your impairment is certainly crucial to their efficacy in helping to build your case, their ability to articulate their knowledge to the administrative law judge is equally important. After all, if your witnesses are unable to communicate their knowledge to the ALJ, they will not provide much benefit to your case. Below are examples of good and bad lay witness testimony in response to the question, “What is (claimant’s name)’s impairment?

Answer #1

(Claimant’s name) has cancer.

Answer #2

(Claimant’s name) told me several months ago that he was diagnosed with lung cancer. Frankly, I was not surprised to hear it given all of the changes I had been noticing in his behavior. Up until about a year ago, (Claimant’s name) was one of the most energetic people in the office. He never complained about being tired, he never appeared sick, and each day, he was the last one to leave the office. Now, I see him struggle to walk from his desk to the copy machine. He frequently appears out of breath, and he is unable to handle any of the manual labor, like moving boxes, that he used to do with ease. (Claimant’s name) also seems to be finding it increasingly difficult to focus on completing his weekly status reports because sitting at his desk for long periods of time seems to aggravate his pain.

The sample responses above show the difference between high quality and low quality lay testimony. In the first response, the witness does not provide any details whatsoever to inform the ALJ about the claimant’s impairment. The ALJ is probably already aware that the claimant has been diagnosed with cancer, but he or she may not know very much about how it limits the claimant’s ability to work. The first response does nothing to deepen the ALJ’s understanding. If your witness provides responses like Response #1, your Los Angeles Social Security attorney may be forced to ask him or her pointed questions intended to elicit the desired information. This method is not ideal because the testimony becomes very choppy and less compelling to the ALJ.

Response #2, unlike Response #1, includes specific examples of difficulties the claimant experiences because of his impairment. The witness draws sharp contrast between who the claimant was pre- and post-cancer diagnosis and paints a picture of a hard-working, energetic individual who has truly become disabled. Further, response #2 uses a somewhat informal, conversational style in answering the question. If your witness can convey his or her knowledge of your impairment in this manner, the ALJ is more likely to develop an understanding of who you are as a person and to ultimately conclude you are entitled to benefits.

For a free consultation with a Los Angeles Social Security attorney, contact Sima Aghai today.
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