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Can I file suit after applying for disability?

A female shipyard employee suffered congestive heart failure during her employment as an electrician. After the incident, her doctor put various restrictions on what she was allowed to do. Later, her condition worsened, and she required a surgery to fix her pacemaker. She would later apply for disability benefits due to further activity restrictions.

Following the surgery, the woman was not permitted to lift heavy objects. She could not be exposed to extreme temperatures, she was not allowed to work from heights, and she could not stand for over an hour at one time. Furthermore, she could not walk over 500 feet without a rest. Because of these numerous restrictions, the shipyard employer said that the woman could not perform her job as an electrician and ended her employment. Although this case did not occur in Pennsylvania, similar issues have happened in our state, too.

After losing her job, the woman qualified to receive Social Security disability benefits. She also filed a lawsuit against her ex-employer. In the suit, she claimed that her termination was retaliation for reporting her injuries. It also claimed that she was denied her employment rights under the Family Medical Leave Act.

Some Pennsylvania readers of this blog might suspect that a Social Security disability benefits application would bar a terminated employee from filing suit against the ex-employer. However, the court permitted this woman's case to continue to trial. The court determined that -- in spite of her activity restrictions -- she could have performed the duties of other jobs available at the shipyard. As happened in this case, there are often solutions to legal situations that at first appear to bar an individual from pursuing damages in a lawsuit.

Source:, "Disability benefits application does not bar lawsuit", Peyton S. Irby, Jr., Feb. 23, 2015


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