Oakland, CA—A class action lawsuit was filed today in federal district court in San Francisco against the Social Security Administration (SSA) by three plaintiffs who were deprived of disability benefits because of SSA’s continued reliance on medical reports from a doctor who has been disqualified. The grossly deficient reports were based on cursory examinations (often lasting ten minutes or less), referenced tests that were never performed, and were inconsistent with plaintiffs’ medical records. On the basis of these faulty reports, plaintiffs who were no longer able to work were denied Supplemental Security Income (SSI) and Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) benefits, essential to their well-being.
“The SSA is responsible for making sure that the process of applying for disability benefits works well and treats people fairly,” said Elizabeth Balassone of Morrison & Foerster LLP, which is representing the plaintiffs pro bono. “The agency is failing in its duty by continuing to use reports from a discredited examiner.”
About the Lead Plaintiff
Kevin Hart is a San Mateo County resident who was sent to Dr. Frank Chen for a medical exam to determine if he was still disabled and thus still eligible for his SSI and SSDI benefits. Dr. Chen, didn’t review Hart’s medical records, didn’t ask him about his condition, repeatedly interrupted Hart when he attempted to explain his diagnosis, and only spent approximately 10 minutes on a perfunctory examination. Dr. Chen’s report referenced tests he didn’t perform and failed to mention Mr. Hart’s primary disability, a leg and foot injury he sustained after being hit by a car— even though Hart needed a cane to stand during his exam. Learn more about Hart and the case.
After Dr. Chen’s evaluation, Hart was notified that his benefits were being terminated because he was no longer disabled. He was never notified that Dr. Chen had been disqualified, even though Dr. Chen’s report was an important reason for the decision in his case. Read more about the case.
Frank Chen had been performing medical examinations for the SSA in several cities around the Bay Area for years, potentially wrongly denying thousands of people disability benefits worth millions of dollars.
“We are familiar with poor quality consultative examinations, but Kevin’s was particularly poor,” said Trinh Phan, Staff Attorney for the Legal Aid Society of San Mateo County. “When we learned of Dr. Chen’s disqualification, we began to dig deeper to find that Chen’s reports had been and were still being used to deny individuals all over the Bay Area of desperately needed benefits.”
The lawsuit seeks to require the SSA to reopen all prior determinations that terminated or denied SSI and/or SSDI benefits and that relied on a consultative examination report from Dr. Chen, and offer Plaintiffs an opportunity for a new exam from a qualified medical professional.
”This case raises important questions about Social Security Administration’s obligation to ensure quality disability determinations,” says Anna Rich, Litigation Director at NSCLC. “In addition to helping everyone who may have been harmed by evidence from this particular bad doctor, we hope that Mr. Hart’s case causes SSA to take its responsibility to monitor the program more seriously.”
Plaintiffs are represented by Morrison & Foerster LLP, Justice in Aging and the Legal Aid Society of San Mateo County.
Justice in Aging is a non-profit organization whose principal mission is to protect the rights of low-income older adults. Through advocacy, litigation, and the education and counseling of local advocates, we seek to ensure the health and economic security of those with limited income and resources, and access to the courts for all.
Anna Rich, National Senior Citizens Law Center, 510-338-9103
Elizabeth Balassone, Morrison & Foerster LLP, 415-268-7585