Examples of Good and Bad Lay Witness Testimony at a Social Security Disability Hearing
The following examples show the difference between strong and weak lay testimony. The best examples provide detailed testimony about a specific incident observed by the witness, showing an anecdote that represents many other such incidents.
Weak: [Your name] has epilepsy.
[This is a conclusion, quite likely based on what someone has told the witness who, being a layman, not a doctor, may be surprised before the end of the hearing to learn that the claimant suffers from an organic brain syndrome instead of epilepsy.]
Strong: My son suffers from grand mal epilepsy according to his doctor, and [your name] actions are almost the same as my son’s. He has what appears to be seizures, falls down, bites his tongue, loses consciousness, and loses control of his bladder. When he recovers, after 25 minutes or so, he appears to be in a daze and has trouble speaking. He sleeps for a couple of hours and then appears to be all right. I have seen this happen maybe a dozen times in the last two years.
[These observations will go far to convince the administrative law judge that the claimant suffers from a serious seizure disorder, regardless of the label placed on it.]
Weak: [Your name] has emphysema.
Strong: [Your name] sits in a chair by the window most of the day. The phone is maybe 20 feet away. When his wife is not there and he has to answer the phone when I call, he is gasping for breath after walking even that short distance and has to rest for a minute after saying, “Hello.”
[In this sample testimony the witness has furnished not a conclusion (“emphysema”) but observations from which the administrative law judge can conclude that the claimant has a severe breathing impairment. The exact label to be placed on the impairment (emphysema, bronchitis, asthma, allergy, tuberculosis) is not important at this point, and can be supplied by the administrative law judge after all the evidence is in.]
Weak: My husband is disabled by his pain.
Strong: From what I have seen since my husband came home from the hospital, he appears to be in almost constant pain. He is up and down all night, groans in his sleep, and never appears to be comfortable. His doctor told him to take up to four pain tablets a day, but he never takes less than six. Then he takes a dozen or so aspirin on top of that. He has lost his appetite and 15 pounds. Our social life is nonexistent. He doesn’t drive anymore, or even ride in a car when he doesn’t have to, since he says it hurts too much. I do all the grocery shopping and do the yard work because I’m convinced he hurts too bad to do it. He always did those things before he was hurt. We don’t go to church anymore because he says he can’t sit still that long.
Weak: [Your name] was disabled even while he was working at the plant with me.
Strong: I worked with [your name] for six years. He always did his share of the work until he was hurt. In the last year he was there, I saw him faint twice and took him to the emergency room at the hospital on one occasion. The foreman gave him a lighter job, where he wouldn’t have to lift over five pounds and wouldn’t have to work around moving machinery. All of us pitched in and did part of his work for him. He was absent one or two days a week toward the last. I understand he is retired now on disability.
Weak: [Your name] can’t do her housework.
Strong: [Your name] has always been a meticulous housekeeper. However, during the past year, she has simply let the housework go. I do the laundry for her and the vacuuming. When I visit her, she is usually resting on the couch or in bed. I have seen her try to cook dinner and drop a pan full of hot food. She drops dishes a lot. Once, when I was there, she fainted while she was cooking dinner and fell across the stove.
Weak: Operating a power sewing machine in a clothing factory is hard work. [Your name] can’t do it anymore.
Strong: I sat next to [your name] at the sewing factory and we operated power sewing machines. We were required to sit all day, except for one 30 minute lunch break and two 15 minute coffee breaks. We were required to use both hands and one foot to perform the necessary sewing operations and had to lift and carry up to 20 pounds of finished garments. We had a quota to make. It required good eyesight and good coordination. If she can’t do all those things, she can’t do the work.
Weak: As personnel manager for the XYZ Company, I can say that [your name] is too disabled to do her former work, even though she tried.
Strong: As personnel manager for the XYZ Company, I am familiar with the work [your name] did. She worked as a hand sander, finishing pieces of furniture. This required her to stand for eight hours a day, with the usual breaks, to bend, stoop, work in awkward positions, and to lift up to 30 pounds. She was often absent due to her illness and once we had to shut down the assembly line due to her absence. Our records show that during the last six months she worked for us, she was absent for 31 whole days and went home early on 16 occasions. Her work was satisfactory when she was there, but she was absent so much we had to let her go. Reports from her doctor indicated that she was absent due to treatment for a nervous condition.
Weak: As personnel manager, I think [your name] is entitled to social security disability benefits since he is already drawing disability retirement from our company.
Strong: As personnel manager, I help make disability determinations for persons who file for disability benefits under our company plan. Under our policy, a person is considered disabled if he is unable to do his usual work or comparable work in the plant because of his impairments, for a period of at least six months. Under that definition, [your name] has been found by us to be disabled..