I recently had a client crash their claim with their testimony. Perhaps learning from their mistake will help you better prepare your client for their hearing.
This particular gentleman was in his early 40’s and had suffered a back injury several years prior. He had some serious complaints of chronic back pain and would testify that he was so reduced in his ability to sit, stand, walk, lift, and carry that he could not even perform sedentary occupations! I truly believe that he suffered chronic pain. The objective evidence supported his allegations and his doctors gave opinions to support his allegations.
So what went wrong? He appeared before the ALJ wearing swim trunks, a tank top, and flip flops.
Now, in and of itself this isn’t the end of the world, although inappropriate. But, when the ALJ asked why he was dressed this way, he excitedly responded: “Judge, I’m headed to the lake to jet ski after this!”
Immediate heart drop.
I tried my best to salvage the testimony. When I finally got to question the claimant we discussed this and he testified that he really couldn’t do anything on the jet skis anymore than slowly ride around the lake cove for a short-time, that his kids did most of the riding, and he mostly sat on the shore watching them have fun.
But it was too late. The ALJ heard enough to find that he was not credible and issue a denial, largely in part I believe to this testimony.
I say this just as a reminder that sometimes what you expect your client to know already (like how to dress at the hearing – or how to testify about their leisure activities) they might not know. A thorough hearing preparation is absolutely necessary in order to make the best presentation to the ALJ and guard against testimony like this that might limit the claimant’s chances of a fully favorable decision.