Because the application process can be daunting for Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) claimants, an experienced attorney can be of great help. An attorney can be of particular assistance if SSD benefits are initially denied and an appeal is necessary. In fact, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) has found that claimants who are represented at appeal hearings are three times more likely to prevail than their unrepresented counterparts.
Because workers who apply for SSD benefits are often struggling financially, United States law makes some provision for payment of attorney fees when past-due benefits are awarded. But federal Social Security statutes also place a cap on the amount of fees an attorney can charge when past-due benefits are awarded. However, federal courts across the country are not in agreement when it comes to applying the cap on attorneys’ fees.
Federal law is interpreted by circuit courts of appeals, of which there are twelve. When circuits interpret or apply the same federal law in different manners – what’s known as a “circuit split” – the United States Supreme Court may step in to resolve the difference and ensure uniform application of the law. In January, an Eleventh Circuit – which includes Atlanta, as well as the rest of Georgia, Florida and Alabama – decision on the SSDI cap on attorneys’ fees recognized that the circuits are split on how they apply the cap.
The Fourth, Fifth and Eleventh Circuits use what is known as the “aggregate” approach to calculate and cap the amount of attorneys’ fees that can be awarded. The Sixth, Ninth and Tenth Circuits have declined to accept the aggregate approach. According to a Reuters report, the Supreme Court has agreed to hear the case, Culbertson v. Berryhill, in order to resolve the circuit split.