10 Disability Judge Trick Questions and How to Answer Them

10 Disability Judge Trick Questions and How to Answer Them

Facing a disability judge for the first time can feel daunting. That’s especially true if you worry, “Will the judge ask certain questions just to try and trip me up?”  or “How do I handle any disability judge trick questions that come my way during the hearing?” Don’t worry, we have a great primer to get you through it with flying colors below!

Top 10 Disability Judge Trick Questions to Watch For

Below are some disability judge trick questions you might be worried about (or have no idea how to answer “correctly”).

1. Did you drive yourself here today?

You want to answer this truthfully, and it’s a “yes or no” question. However, be aware that if you stated in your claim that you couldn’t drive, you’re contradicting yourself to the judge. The judge is looking for inconsistencies in what you say about your condition, because those are red flags. The judge may then ask a follow-up, like: “Does your condition limit your ability to drive in any way?” This is your chance to explain if you have limited ability to see or turn your head, dizziness, nausea, etc.

2. Where do you like to go on vacation?

The judge is asking two things here:

  1. Do you have disposable money right now to spend on travel? If so, where does that money come from? Are you working now and trying to commit Social Security fraud?
  2. If you take more “active” vacations that involve water-skiing, hiking, or dancing, then you’re probably not too disabled to work.

Be truthful, but also explain anything that’s relevant to your disability case. For example, here are some honest answers that may prove helpful:

A: My husband and I like to go to Myrtle Beach every year to visit family on July 4th. However, we haven’t gone for 3 summers now because I cannot sit in the car that long without severe pain.

A: Before my accident, I went skiing a lot. The last time I was able to ski was 18 months ago, when I could still walk and stand easily.

3. Who takes out your trash, cooks, cleans, etc.?

When a judge asks questions like these, he or she is trying to get a picture of your typical day. Do you need help doing basic chores around the house? Or can you do some tasks yourself, but not every day? Can you take out the trash only with difficulty when nobody’s around? If you can take care of your daily needs often without help, then you can probably work.

4. Do you have any kids at home?

If you have kids at home, simply say “yes” to this question. The judge will then ask follow-up questions where you can provide details regarding how it relates to your disability case.

Do You Still Have Kids at Home?

What you should focus on is whether your health problems negatively impact your ability to give consistent, proper care. For example: If cancer surgery made it impossible for you to pick up your own child, say so. Do you need a friend or family member to babysit several days a week? Or handle certain tasks, like bathing, cooking, and school drop-offs/pick-ups on weekdays? These are the details a disability judge wants to hear while evaluating your case.

5. What are some of your favorite activities to do in your spare time?

Disabled people are allowed to have hobbies they enjoy. The key thing to remember is how your medical issues limit your participation in or enjoyment of those activities. Some judges ask this because they want to understand how long you can sit, stand, or walk comfortably without help. Knowing you love going to see your granddaughter’s plays tells the judge you can sit comfortably for about 2 hours.

Most judges ask some version of “what’s your typical day like from the time you wake up until your bedtime?” This is a variation of that question that helps them understand how your condition affects you, both mentally and physically.

Maybe you tell the judge you stopped bowling because of your bad back but can still do the grocery shopping. The judge may find it odd that you can’t comfortably roll a 15 lb. ball but can carry an 8 lb. jug of milk. These types of disability judge trick questions are much easier to answer if a lawyer helps you prepare!

6. How do you manage your pain?

Many people who need daily prescriptions to manage pain may feel defensive answering this question. Addiction is a real risk with many pain meds, but you want to answer this honestly. Medication side effects can make some jobs dangerous or impossible to do, and disability judges know this. Employers may not want someone on prescription painkillers driving a school bus or operating a forklift, for example.

Other pain management options might make working more manageable, depending on your medical condition. Avoiding specific triggers or limiting physical activity are valid pain management strategies that can make full-time work impossible.

When Was the Last Time You Worked?

7. Do you have stairs at your home? How many?

This is another very specific question the judge might ask to determine your current mobility level. One basic test at your consultative exam is to ask you to walk up and down a few steps. Or they might drop a pencil on the floor and ask you to try and pick it up without help. In some people’s eyes, your ability to do these two tasks prove you aren’t truly disabled and can still work.

Be honest if you can no longer manage those steps inside or outside your home without assistance. This may mean you need to use a cane now, or a walker, crutches, or have a temporary ramp put in place. The judge simply wants to know how difficult it is for you to move around every day without help.

8. When’s the last time you worked, and why did you stop?

Out of all possible disability judge trick questions, you’ll definitely have to answer a question like this. Be very specific when answering a question like this from your judge. Expect follow-ups or variations on it, such as:

  • Did you quit your last job, or did they fire you or lay you off?
  • If they fired you or let you go, did repeat absences or coming in late too often play a role?
  • Was your medical condition responsible for any performance-related issues before you stopped working?
  • Did you ask for any reasonable accommodation under the ADA? If yes, how long could you work with those adjustments?
  • Could you work a part-time or sedentary job with the education and work history you already have?
  • Are there mental symptoms that make working harder now for you than it was before? (For example, are the meds you’re on for pain management interfering with your ability to remember instructions or operate machinery?)

A lot of these questions come up if you’re younger than 49 years old when you apply for disability. That’s because the rules change once you turn 50.

9. If you could work for just one day and make enough money to live on for the rest of your life, what job would you choose?

This is one of those disability judge trick questions designed to make you let your guard down. People tend to loosen up when answering a fantasy question like this. Don’t focus on the idea of being set financially for life. Realize the judge is asking if you could find the physical and mental strength to work with the right incentive.

Remember: If you can work at all in any capacity, then the disability judge can deny you benefits. Even if it’s a pretend job for just one day, you’re better off consulting an attorney before you answer this question.

What Not to Say to a Disability Judge During Your Hearing

10. When’s the last time you drank alcohol or used illegal drugs?

In many states, certain drugs are legal now, which can throw some people off when hearing this question. Some medical conditions are directly linked with alcohol abuse, like cirrhosis. The judge wants to know whether alcohol or drugs are materially responsible for your current disability status. Here’s another example: Drinking alcohol can make schizophrenia symptoms much harder to manage. If you could work again after stopping alcohol or drug use, then the judge can deny you benefits.

How Should I Describe Pain to a Disability Judge?

It might seem like saying you’re in constant pain should be enough for the disability judge to grant you benefits. But unfortunately, it’s not that simple.

So how should you respond when the disability judge asks you to describe your pain? That likely depends on the injury or condition that causes it. For instance, if you have a back injury, you might focus on:

  • How bad you feel when you walk, stand, or lean over at certain angles.
  • The way your pain limits your ability to lift things like you could before (i.e., a child, groceries, delivery packages).
  • Fun hobbies you miss doing, such as dancing, gardening, or riding your bicycle.

Back pain affects many people and is one of the top conditions listed on successful Social Security disability claims. The judge wants to know if your back pain makes you 100% unable to work for at least 12 months.

How to Confidently Prepare to Answer Disability Judge Trick Questions

How to Confidently Prepare to Answer Disability Judge Trick Questions About Pain

The disability judge may also ask you to talk about your pain before and after you take any prescribed medications. For instance, the judge might ask if you can move around better or lift things after taking prescription opiates.

This is one of those disability judge trick questions that often makes people nervous. But it shouldn’t, and here’s why. The underlying condition causing your pain still exists, and drug side effects can also hurt your ability to work. Most medications prescribed to manage pain have at least some of the following side effects:

  • Feeling sleepy or groggy, which can make it dangerous to drive or operate heavy machinery.
  • Nausea or constipation, which can make focusing on the job far more difficult and increase your number of work breaks.
  • Increased risk for falls and fractures, which could lead to serious injuries that may also require surgery.

So, here’s how to answer any disability judge trick questions about taking your pain meds. Studies show opioids don’t help you function better physically at work. In fact, prescription painkillers only help relieve about 30% of lower back pain in the short term.

Bonus Tip: Get a symptom diary as soon as possible and write down your daily pain levels, along with the date. Describe how that day’s pain level affected your activities. Did pain on a certain date stop you from making food for yourself, or keep you in bed all day? Showing a disability judge how your pain impacts your ability to care for yourself without help can better support your case.

What Should I Not Say When Answering Disability Judge Trick Questions?

First, avoid using words like “always” or “never.” Don’t say anything to a disability judge unless you have documentation to back it up as factually correct. These documents can include things like:

  • Your own symptom diary
  • Doctor’s treatment notes
  • Lab test results
  • Hospital records
  • Imaging scans, such as X-rays, MRIs, or CT scans
  • Letters of support from friends, family, former coworkers, physical therapists, vocational rehab specialists, or social workers

It’s also important to not rely on just one person’s opinion. For example: Your last job manager wants to testify that they let you go because you couldn’t keep up. Unfortunately, that supervisor’s testimony alone isn’t as convincing without recent medical records or an expert witness who agrees in court.

Bottom Line: Never exaggerate, minimize, guess, or say anything you can’t objectively prove is true at your disability hearing. Make your answers short, direct, and honest!

How to Explain Your Daily Activities to a Disability Judge

What About Disability Judge Trick Questions Asking Me to Describe My Typical Day?

The disability judge will likely ask you questions about your everyday activities during your hearing. It’s normal for disability judges to ask you to describe a typical day in your life, including any hobbies.

They do this because they are trying to assess whether your health issues truly stop you from working. Remember: If your health stops you from doing the exact job you did before but not all jobs, the judge may deny you benefits. In “disability benefits speak,” this is called functionality.

If the judge decides you can work any job with reasonable accommodation under ADA guidelines, then you’ll lose your case.

Tips for Answering Disability Judge Trick Questions During Video Hearings

Hearings can happen either in person or over video conferencing software. If you attend in person, you’ll go to a designated room for an interview with the disability judge. And just like a job interview, you want to show up well-prepared, on time, and wearing appropriate clothes.

Here are some tips to help you ace your disability hearing, whether it happens in person or virtually by video.

If you request a video hearing, here are some tips to help you set things up perfectly on your end:

  • Download the necessary software to your computer, tablet, or smartphone and learn how to use it. That way, it’s not new to you on the day of your hearing.
  • Charge your device ahead of time and make sure it’s ready to use before your hearing begins. Because you don’t know in advance how long a hearing will last, it’s best to start with a fully charged device. Another smart idea? Set up your device near an outlet and keep it plugged in so you never lose power.  
  • Set up and test your equipment at least 15 minutes before your hearing begins. In other words, place all your reference documents within easy reach, and blur the background on your camera settings. This both protects your privacy and minimizes any visible distractions. Always choose a private space with a door that you can close (or even better, lock) whenever possible.
  • Mute your microphone unless you’re answering a question. Always remain polite and don’t interrupt when the judge speaks to you. It’s ok, though, to ask for clarification if you don’t understand something.
Tips to Prepare for Video Hearings

How an Attorney Helps You Answer Disability Judge Trick Questions the Right Way

In addition to understanding the system, hiring an attorney can help during a hearing in very specific ways. For instance, an attorney can help you rehearse your answers to any disability judge trick questions that make you nervous. Practicing what you’ll say ahead of time can make you look and feel more confident during your hearing. The attorney can also advise you on what to wear and secure witness testimony on your behalf from trained experts.

4 in 5 People Facing a Disability Judge in Appeals Court Have Attorneys

The GAO (Government Accountability Office) found disability claims with attorney representation were 3x more likely to succeed within 6 months.

An attorney can tell you for free whether you’ll qualify for Social Security disability before you file. If your claim doesn’t win, then you pay your lawyer $0. And if you win benefits, you only pay one small fee afterwards. What have you got to lose?

Click the button below today to connect with free expert Social Security disability claim help by phone:

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Lisa Allen is a writer and editor who lives in suburban Kansas City. She holds MFAs in Creative Nonfiction and Poetry, both from the Solstice Low-Residency Program in Creative Writing at Pine Manor College. Prior to becoming a writer, Lisa worked as a paralegal, where she specialized in real estate in and around Chicago.