Does Winning a Personal Injury Lawsuit Prohibit Me From Filing For SSDI or SSI Benefits?
When you have suffered a personal injury, it is likely that you are entitled to compensation from the offending party. You may also be eligible for disability benefits of some kind from the Social Security Administration. The maze of regulations is confusing enough as it is. To complicate matters, the settlement award from a personal injury claim counts as income that you will have to report. The short answer is no, winning a personal injury lawsuit and receiving financial compensation does not prohibit you from filing for benefits from the Social Security Administration. However, any award you may receive may impact the amount you may qualify for from the government. So how does that change any possible benefits you may be entitled to from the Social Security Administration?
The Social Security Administration (SSA) manages Social Security Disability Benefits (SSDI) and Supplemental Security Income (SSI) Benefits. There are rules for both programs and everyone’s situation is different. There is nothing that prohibits you from filing a claim for benefits, but the outcome depends on your circumstances.
Here is a brief guide to help you decide:
Does My Disability Even Count?
The first thing to consider is the type of injury. The Social Security Administration determines an individual’s disability status. Each case is evaluated independently. To qualify, you must be prevented from participating in the labor force by medical circumstances.
Usually, this means you cannot do the same type of work that you did prior to the incident. It also means that you are unable to perform another type of work. A mechanic with a back injury is disabled, but a writer with a sprained ankle may not qualify. In some instances, mental illnesses are also considered disabilities.
The disability must last for at least a year or more. During that time, there must also be little chance that you will be able to earn an income. If you are attending a training or education program full-time, you will not be eligible for disability benefits. The same is true if you are drawing unemployment. Either of these two conditions indicates that you are eligible and/or willing and able to work.
Social Security Disability Benefits (SSDI)
This is an entitlement program administered by the Social Security Administration. It is for those who have paid into the system for a certain number of years. It has the following features:
- As of 2017, the highest payment is $1,171 per month
- You may begin to collect benefits five months after the injury took place
- After two years on the program, you are eligible for Medicare
- The payment depends on your previous earnings
- You may collect this regardless of how many assets you own
To qualify, you must be younger than 65 years old. You must also have a work history in which you contributed to FICA taxes for 10 years or more.
Social Security Income Benefits (SSI)
This benefit is needs based. It is to support those who do not have any other means of providing for themselves. To qualify for SSI you must:
- Have less than $2000 in assets for individuals or $3000 for couples
- Have a very limited income
- Be a U.S Citizen or qualified alien
- Live within the United States
The amount of the benefit depends on the current federal rate. In 2017 that monthly amount is $735 for individuals or $1103 for couples. There is no waiting period to begin receiving benefits. Qualifying for SSI also gives you access to Medicaid. Many will apply for SSI simply to enroll in this useful healthcare plan.
Your SSI benefits are not impacted by food stamps. If you are receiving aid from other sources, those must be reported. If someone is helping you with living expenses or a place to live, these in-kind gifts count as part of your income.
So, Will You Lose Your Benefits If You Win a Lawsuit?
Not necessarily. The different characteristics of each program provide for continued coverage in certain circumstances.
The SSI is a needs-based program. If you have an income of any kind, the benefit is only lowered at first. It is not eliminated entirely until you have exceeded a certain level of wealth. There are ways to lessen this impact, and an experienced attorney can help you with your filings. The fact is that you must report your income, assets, and other aid. Money from a settlement is deducted from the payment you receive, but this deduction depends on a predetermined formula. Some income is permissible up to a certain amount. You may not receive the full benefits, but some payment may still be possible.
Your SSDI benefits are an insurance claim that is not dependent on your income. Even those who are already very wealthy may collect the full amount. It is an entitlement program that pays no matter what income you have. If you are collecting both SSDI and SSI benefits, it is likely that some of your SSI payments will be lowered by your SSDI payment. This is not a bad thing. It simply means that you will have access to the resources you need.
Filing a personal injury lawsuit while you are currently on disability will likely not impact any potential award you may receive as compensation for your injuries. As such, you should not be hesitant to pursue your legal claim if you’re currently receiving any form of government disability assistance.
Talk your situation over with an experienced attorney. A lawyer with a background in these types of cases will be able to help you maximize your award.