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Ex-teacher claims benefits after scary encounters with students

Social Security Disability benefits can help people with a variety of mental and physical conditions. In fact, the number of qualifying conditions may be much larger than many people realize. A recent New Jersey court case illustrates some of the variety of conditions covered by disability benefits, but also some of the limitations of disability benefits programs.

A panel of three appeals court judges ruled that a former schoolteacher who was traumatized by frightening encounters with students cannot collect her disability benefits at the higher rate reserved for accidental disability. Two of the three judges ruled that the woman's experiences did not meet the legal standard for a "terrifying or horror-inducing event."

The woman claims that on at least two occasions, she was physically attacked by disabled students at her school. Although she suffered no serious physical injury, she said the experiences left her with recurring panic attacks. She was later diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder.

A judge allowed the woman to claim disability benefits, but said she could not claim them at the higher rates reserved for workers, such as police officers or firefighters, who have experienced a terrifying event that involved threatened death or other highly traumatic experiences. The woman appealed that decision, but the 2-1 vote of the appeals judges affirmed the first decision. The woman's lawyer has said she will take the case to the New Jersey Supreme Court.

It's important to note that this woman's case differs from a typical Social Security Disability benefits case in many important ways. However, her case does illustrate legal principles that come up in typical SSD cases. First, it shows that disability benefits can cover people who are disabled due to mental conditions, and not just physical injuries or illnesses. Second, it shows that the precise amount a person can receive in benefits is subject to a somewhat complicated set of regulations and calculations. Third, it shows that there is a robust system of appeals available to those who are initially denied their claims for benefits, or who do not initially receive the full amount of benefits for which they have applied.

An experienced SSD lawyer can help the disabled and their families to understand their options and how the law may apply to their precise circumstances.

Source: New Jersey Law Journal, "Appeals Court Nixes Boost in Disability Benefits for Traumatized Teacher," Charles Toutant, April 11, 2017

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