30 years and counting

On August 15, 1983, I started as a young associate attorney with a Brooklyn law firm named Pasternack Popish and Burton. I had just left my first law job at a general practice firm, with the solid conviction that learning and juggling many different kinds of cases in different areas of the law wasn’t for me. Although going in I had almost no idea what practicing Workers’ Compensation or Social Security Disability law was about, specializing in just one or two areas seemed, to me, to be a better fit.

Well, I must have been right, because here I am still representing injured and disabled workers in 2013. Today marks 30 years since I started as a Workers’ Comp/SSD lawyer, and I have seen almost everything in those 30 years. One constant, however, has been my endless joy and satisfaction at what I do. I feel very blessed to have found something that has paid the bills while at the same time challenged me intellectually and allowed me to truly help those who need help. I was brought up in a home where the underdog was always exalted, and certainly in my line of work I fight for the underdog—the injured and disabled worker—every day.

Today I cross-examined a City of New York psychiatrist (read: hired gun) who examined my client exactly once and decided that although he didn’t perform any tests of any kind, he just KNOWS that my client has no psychiatric disability. This scenario could well have been in 1983 (God knows, I think this quack was doing the same thing when I started) so it just shows that although many things have changed in 30 years, many remain the same. We still in 2013 have multiple doctors who can examine the same injured worker and come to completely opposite conclusions regarding that worker’s “degree of disability”, and we still have Judges who then must decide whether that injured worker gets a lot of money, a little, or nothing at all.

It’s been a pleasure being a Workers’ Compensation and Social Security Disability lawyer for the past 30 years. I sincerely hope that I can keep fighting for the injured and disabled for many, many more.

If I file for Benefits can I still go back to work?

I get this question a lot. Whether it’s Workers’ Comp or Social Security Disability, clients are sometimes confused about whether going back to work is “bad” or can somehow “hurt” their case. So let me be clear: in my opinion it’s almost always better to go back to work, if you can, rather than depend on Workers’ Comp or Social Security payments. But here’s some common questions and my answer to those questions:

Q: Since I filed for comp against my employer, doesn’t this mean I can never work there again?

A: This is not true. I have plenty of clients who may even have several accidents at different times all at the same employer, filed for comp each time and continue to work there.

Q: Will I lose my Social Security Disability (SSD) case if I return to work?

A: Possibly. To be found disabled in a SSD case, an individual must be unable to engage in any substantial gainful activity (SGA) by reason of a medically determinable physical or mental impairment(s) which can be expected to result in death, or which has lasted or can be expected to last for a continuous period of at least 12 months.But, and this is a big but, once you meet the 12-month requirement, if you return to work afterwards, you may still receive benefits, after a 5-month waiting period, for the time you were out of work! This is called a “closed period” type of case. In other words, once you are out at least 12 months, if you are awarded benefits you can get them until you return to work, and even sometimes later on if you go back out of work.

Q. My treating Workers’ comp doctor told me that I shouldn’t work but the company doctor cleared me. What should I do?

A. The best advice is to always follow your own doctor’s advice about returning to work. If there is a conflict between doctors, that is why there are Judges at the Workers’ Compensation Board—to decide these kinds of disputes.

Q. What’s a Trial Work Period in Social Security?

A: To quote from the SSA website:

We have special rules that allow people who get Social Security disability benefits to work without losing their monthly benefits.

A trial work period allows you to test your ability to work for at least nine months and receive full Social Security benefits regardless of how much you are earning as long as you disabled.

After your trial work period, you are allowed a period of 36 months during which you can work and still receive benefits for any month your earnings are not substantial.

So, to sum up, it’s never “bad” to return to work after you have applied for comp or SSD. What IS bad? Returning to work but NOT TELLING THE INSURANCE COMPANY IN A COMP CASE OR THE GOVERNMENT IN A SSD CASE. Bottom line: As long as you INFORM THEM that you have returned to work, there’s nothing to be afraid of!