SSA’s Determination of Disability Is Not Worth Its Weight In Prejudice

In a medical malpractice case arising out of allegedly negligent knee replacement surgery, the plaintiff offered into evidence the Social Security Administration’s (SSA) Determination of Disability. Orber v. Jain, 10-cv-1674 (DNJ Camden).  Judge Renee Marie Bumb, United States District Court for the District of New Jersey, found the determination to be inadmissible under Rule 403 because it is “substantially more prejudicial than probative.”

The court cited a number of reasons for its decision, which should be of interest to similarly situated defendants.  First, the court found the SSA’s conclusion as to causation to be unreliable both because the SSA’s interest is in determining the presence of a disability as opposed to its cause, and because the SSA’s process lacks “a meaningful adversarial” component, which is particularly troubling when, as here, the plaintiff had already filed suit and may have had litigation in mind when he went through the process.  Second, the court noted that there is “no basis to assess the qualifications of the Administrative Law Judge to render an opinion as to causation and thereby assess the opinion’s worth.”  Third, the court acknowledged the significant risk of prejudice presented by the fact that a jury may give undue weight to a government report.  And finally, the court found that the probative value of the determination was minimal because the evidence it contained was cumulative of other evidence presented at trial. 

The guidance offered by this opinion will certainly be of use to any defendant in New Jersey that faces a similar attempt by a plaintiff to short-circuit proof of causation by relying on an SSA determination of disability.


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