Disabling Chronic Pain

One of the most disabling symptoms for our disability clients at the O’Ryan Law Firm is chronic, severe pain. The type of pain that keeps you awake most of the night or forces you to lay down most of the day in order to alleviate the pain just a little bit. The pain that results from degenerative disc disease, fibromyalgia, neuropathy and failed back surgeries among other medical conditions. Disability insurance companies are loath to pay disability benefits when the most significant symptom is disabling pain. Oftentimes, the insurance company will discount considerable evidence that the chronic pain is a significant factor in the disability claim because many of the objective medical testing is “normal.” There are no x-rays, MRIs or CT scans that are able to document chronic, severe pain. However, many courts have held that a disability claimant can prove the severity of their pain by showing, with their medical records, repeated attempts to treat the pain including steroid injections, prescription medications, surgery, physical therapy and acupuncture. These treatment methods can show that a claimant is suffering from severe pain.

In this area, when there is an absence of testing to establish the source of pain, a claimant can show that they are disabled by chronic pain by proving that the claimant has diligently sought out treatment for the pain. The Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals has held that “medical science confirms that pain can be severe and disabling even in the absence of ‘objective’ medical findings, that is, test results that demonstrate a physical condition that normally causes pain of the severity claimed by the [plaintiff].” Carradine v. Barnhart, 360 F.3d 751, 753 (7th Cir.2004). Thus, while objective medical evidence must support a finding of an underlying impairment, subjective evidence can be used to demonstrate that the pain associated with that condition is disabling. Carradine, 360 F.3d 753; see also Hawkins v. First Union Disability Plan, 326 F.3d 914, 919 (7th Cir.2003) “Taken in the light most favorable to the plaintiff, the evidence of [plaintiff’s] repeated attempts to seek treatment for his condition supports an inference that his pain, though hard to explain by reference to physical symptoms, was disabling.” Diaz v. Prudential Ins. Co., 499 F.3d 640, 645 (7th Cir. 2007). In Sandell v. Prudential Ins. Co., 2007 WL 4404487, *7 (S.D. Ind. Dec. 13, 2007), the court found that a record review commissioned by the plan administrator was not persuasive, in large part because the reviewing physician failed to consider the claimant’s subjective pain symptoms or address whether the claimant’s pain made it impossible for the plaintiff to hold full-time gainful employment. Similarly in Gessling v. Group Long Term Disability Plan for Employees of Sprint/United Management, 693 F. Supp.2d 856, 866 the Court held:

The record here also shows that Gessling aggressively pursued for several years a range of therapies for his pain, including the rhizotomies, acupuncture, epidural injections, and even hypnosis. Those efforts are hard to reconcile with a theory that Gessling was exaggerating or lying about his pain. See Diaz v. Prudential Ins. Co. of America, 499 F.3d 640, 646 (7th Cir.2007) (reversing summary judgment for plan under de novo review; efforts at therapy supported credibility of claimant’s complaints of pain); Carradine v. Barnhart, 360 F.3d 751, 755 (7th Cir.2004) (remanding denial of Social Security disability benefits based on subjective pain complaints where claimant had undergone extensive, varied, and intrusive pain therapies).

Also, in Anderson v. Hartford Life and Acc. Ins. Co. et al., 2010 WL 3703037, *7, the Court found an insurer’s discounting of the plaintiff’s subjective pain and resulting limitations to be unreasonable:

Here, Hartford unreasonably discounted Anderson’s subjective complaints of pain and the resulting limitation on her activities. None of Hartford’s reviewing physicians acknowledge Anderson’s repeated complaints of pain or her treatment for such pain. Instead, all three physicians emphasize the lack of objective physical evidence of disability. See Record at 376 (Dr. Willis’ opinion); id. at 150 (Dr. Marion’s opinion); id. at 134 (Dr. Topper’s opinion). This discounting of Anderson’s subjective pain and the resulting limitations on her activities based on a lack of objective evidence was erroneous. See Hawkins, 326 F.3d at 918-19 (7th Cir.2003) (reversing termination of benefits where reviewing physicians discount pain based on lack of objective evidence).

It is improper for insurance companies, such as Cigna, Unum, Prudential, Sedgwick, Madison National, Liberty Life or Lincoln Financial, to deny a disability claim while ignoring and dismissing a claimant’s repeated and continuous reports to his or her doctor of severe pain or the extensive treatment that the claimant sought for his or her condition. This supplies the very objective evidence that the insurance company may complain is lacking in your case. If you are suffering from chronic pain and your disability claim has been denied, contact the O’Ryan Law Firm today to discuss your disability claim further.