Most personal injury practitioners see a string of radiological records in every case. A recent decision from the US Seventh Circuit is a reminder of the hazards of reading them without adequate training.

MRI meme
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Ms Akin applied for Supplemental Security Income. She alleged that she became disabled in 2011 as a result of fibromyalgia, back and neck pain and headaches. She saw a number of treating doctors and underwent an MRI. She was also assessed by two medicolegal examiners. The latter concluded that she was fit for sedentary work. Her claim was rejected by the Commissioner of Social Security. She appealed to an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ). The ALJ preferred the opinions of the medicolegal examiners and found that Ms Akin was not disabled because she was fit for sedentary work. The ALJ also said that the MRI scans (which the examiners had not seen) were consistent with Akin’s impairments but did not support her allegations of pain.

Ms Akin appealed to the US District Court which upheld the decision. She appealed to the United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit. Her appeal was upheld. The Court considered that –

… the ALJ’s evaluation of Akin’s MRI results is flawed because the ALJ impermissibly “played doctor.” … The ALJ stated that the MRI results were “consistent” with Akin’s impairments and then based his assessment of her residual functional capacity “after considering … the recent MRIs.” But, without an expert opinion interpreting the MRI results … the ALJ was not qualified to conclude that the MRI results were “consistent” with his assessment.

The ALJ’s decision was vacated and the matter remanded for further proceedings.

Akin v Berryhill (2018), US Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit, 4 April 2018.