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27730 Euclid Avenue, Cleveland, OH 44132
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Nager, Romaine & Schneiberg Co., L.P.A.
automobile accidents in Cleveland
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Nager, Romaine & Schneiberg Co., L.P.A
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Frequently Asked Questions

Click on an area below to read frequently asked questions and answers about each topic:

Important—contact us if you move or change your phone number

If you move, change your mailing address, job, telephone number, etc., please contact us with your new information to avoid unnecessary delays and other problems with your case.  We must always be able to communicate promptly with you.

Do not sign anything that you are unsure about

Of course, you should not sign anything for anybody unless you absolutely know it is okay or you have it approved by us.  Do not talk to your own insurance company without first notifying us prior to your conversation.  This is not to say that you should not say anything about your injuries.  If you have friends and fellow employees, members of your family, feel free to tell them about your difficulties, because they later may be able to corroborate and provide support for your claim.

Remember—we are on your side

If you do not understand any of these instructions or you have additional questions or concerns, remember that we are here to represent you, to assist you, and to teach you about the civil justice system and your rights under the law.  Our office is open from 8:30 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. Monday through Friday.  When we are not here, leave a detailed message including your name, telephone number, and your question.  This will help us to serve you more quickly when returning your call.  We look forward to working with you.

Do you have a question?

A Nager, Romaine & Schneiberg Co., L.P.A. attorney is happy to answer your questions.  Call us toll-free at 1.855.GOT.HURT (1.855.468.4878) or contact us online.   We help clients throughout northeast Ohio including Lake, Geauga, Summit, and Stark counties.

Personal injury and serious accidents

Workers' compensation

Information provided by the Ohio Bureau of Workers' Compensation

Social Security disability

Personal injury and serious accidents

How can I help my attorney present my case?
1) Keep a diary

We cannot emphasize too strongly the importance of maintaining a diary regarding your injuries and damages.  This is nothing fancy and may simply be a notebook or notepad.  It does not have to be kept every day, or every week, but it is important that you keep it in an attempt to document your specific complaints.  Remember, you and I may have to convince a jury (composed of eight strangers) that you were injured in this accident, your injuries caused you pain and suffering, and your pain and suffering entitles you to compensation.  This is best accomplished by providing specific examples and, where necessary, witnesses that can support your testimony.  All pain, discomfort, and injuries should be documented no matter how minor they may seem at the time.  Injuries have a way of progressing.  If you have a bruise from banging your knee and later you develop functional knee pain, it is vital to have some proof of your injury at the time of the accident in order to relate the damages.

Your diary should briefly describe how you felt, in general, prior to the accident.  You should then write how you felt immediately after the accident, telling in the greatest detail possible what happened to you and the pain and suffering you endured immediately thereafter.  As you keep the diary, note the date, describe the effect that the injuries are having on you, and the pain and suffering that you have experienced.  Describe both the symptoms you are having and the activities that you could not do or cannot do as well as you could before your accident and/or injury.  You should record your anguish such as worries you have on your mind about your ability to get well or the effects of your injury on your everyday living and your ability to provide for your family.

Try to use picture words.  For example, I was in a lot of pain today is not nearly as helpful as I was in so much pain today when I reached down to pick up the sweeper I let out a groan and realized that I could not pick it up because of the pain in my right shoulder.  This is what we mean by picture words.  If somebody witnessed your pain or limitations, be sure to write their name.  For example, Today I had to ask my friend to reach up in the cupboard and pull out the saucepan because I was unable to extend my arm upward above my head.  My friend's name is John Smith.  His address is 22 West Main Street in Cleveland and his phone number is (216) 222-4422. Use as many picture words as you can to describe your injuries and pain that you are suffering.  At the conclusion of your treatment, we ask that you forward to us a copy of your diary to assist in making a demand on your behalf.

2) Document your damages

Photographs are very important and cannot be overemphasized.  We will assist you in taking photographs if you cannot do them yourselves, but we do need photographs of your injuries and damages.  If you were injured in an automobile accident or by a defective condition on someone’s property or a defective product, it is imperative that we obtain photographs before repairs are made.  In a motor vehicle case, you should have at least 4 or 5 photographs of your vehicle.  If there is not much damage to the exterior of your vehicle, there may be damage visible inside the car or underneath the vehicle.  It is very important that you take photographs of those hidden damages in these cases.  If you need help obtaining photographs, contact us before repairs are started.  If you have injuries that show up on photographs (scars, bruises, swelling, cuts, stitches, etc.), be sure to take photographs of those areas as well.  If the visible injuries take more than a few days to heal, document them with a photograph every week and use a camera that places a date stamp on the photograph.  Our ability to reconstruct injuries by photographs is very important.  There is truth to the saying that “pictures are worth a thousand words.”  So take plenty of pictures.

Keep track of any expenses such as childcare, housekeeping, and traveling for medical treatment.  All expenses should be noted and if you are in doubt, you should make a record and let us assist you in determining the appropriate ones.  Remember that your inability to do certain activities may be compensable.  But also remember that it is very important to have independent documentation of this impairment.  For example, if you cannot run the sweeper or do the laundry, write down the name of somebody who has seen that you are unable to do these things.  If you are unable to play golf, bowling, tennis, or other sports, write down the name and address of that person who, from his or her observations, can document the fact that you have not been doing or cannot appear to do those activities.

3) Documenting wage loss

If you are expected to miss any time from work as a result of the injuries caused by your accident, it is important that you have documentation from your physician indicating that you will be unable to work for a specific period of time.  If your doctor does not provide this for you, we suggest that you contact your treating physician and/or family physician to request this documentation (i.e., a doctor’s note).  Insurance adjusters often will not consider wage loss submitted without a doctor’s recommendation that you stay off work.

4) Follow the doctor's advice

You should visit your physician as often as is required.   If you are hurt, see your physician.   If you are not hurt, do not visit your physician as this may cause confusion and unnecessary expense.  When you decide to visit your physician, describe all of the pain and suffering and difficulties that you are having to the best of your ability.  Remember that whatever you tell your physician in the course of your treatment will end up in your medical records and may be admissible as evidence later in court.  You should be careful and honest as to what you tell your medical providers.  If you had prior injuries or prior difficulties, tell your physician about them.  If this incident has aggravated your prior injuries, tell your doctor immediately.  If your injuries are affecting your employment, be sure to tell your doctor and your employer about them.  If your injuries are affecting your ability to do recreational activities or the functions of your daily life, be sure that you tell your doctor about them as well.  Above all follow your doctor's advice.  If he or she recommends a consultation with another doctor or a follow-up visit, follow through with that advice.  Also remember that any injuries to any body parts, no matter how minor they may seem, must be documented with your physician as soon as possible after an accident.   By doing so you will protect yourself in the event that these seemingly minor injuries worsen weeks or even months after the accident.

Occasionally people become dissatisfied with certain physicians or their decisions regarding treatment and/or diagnosis.  Different physicians often have different opinions.   If you ever desire our help with obtaining a second opinion or advice about selecting a physician, please contact us.

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How long will my case take?
Generally, settlements, recoveries, jury awards, etc. take a long time.  It may only be three or four months before we reach a settlement on your behalf.  More often, it will take two or three years after the date of your accident or injury to resolve your case.  The length of your case depends on a number of factors including the severity of your injuries, the length of your medical treatment, how long it takes to get the proper diagnosis of your injury and whether or not liability for an accident is disputed or accepted.

One of the main reasons that your case may take a long period of time is to protect you.  When a settlement or recovery is made it is final and its effects can be felt for a lifetime.  You are not allowed to go back into court two years from now or ten years from now or 25 years from now to ask for more compensation.  All of the compensation that you receive as a result of your accident or injury will be received by the time you execute a settlement release or receive a verdict in this case.  We are very careful about settlements and want to make sure that you make a voluntary, intelligent, and knowing settlement or decision regarding a jury trial.  Even after a case is filed in court we often have to wait a year or two before the case is called to trial.  Since these cases take a long time, you can see how important it is to document all of your injuries and damages because our memories are not as accurate as we sometimes think they will be.  In any event, we will not settle your case without your authority and approval.

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Who pays my bills while I am waiting?
You are ultimately responsible for your medical expenses.  If you have any type of medical or health insurance (including Medicare or Medicaid), we strongly urge you to provide your insurance information to your medical providers or if you receive unpaid medical bills that you submit them to your health insurance company to avoid harassing creditors’ actions against you.  When asked by a provider how you wish to pay for your treatment always insist upon the use of your health insurance coverage first.  There are many advantages to handling your case in this manner.  Sometimes you must fill out forms from your health insurer before they will pay your bills.  Contact us if you need assistance with these forms, but take care of them promptly.

You may have the ability to get medical bills paid by your automobile or homeowner’s insurance if your injury occurred while operating your car or on your property.  Likewise, you may be able to get those bills paid under the insurance policy of the person that owns the car or home where you were injured.  This type of coverage is called medical payments coverage or medpay.  Clients often say, I do not want to submit my bills to my insurer because my insurance will go up. You have already paid a premium for this coverage.  If your automobile or homeowner’s insurer pays the bills it is only temporary as they will get their money back when we settle or resolve your case with the at-fault party.  This is what is known as subrogation.

If you do not have any kind of medical/health insurance, some physicians will wait for payment from the proceeds of your case.  Ask us about this.  The law does not allow us to assist you with payment of your medical bills.  What you can do for yourself is write to the various creditors and tell them that you have authorized us to pay them out of any future settlement.  We can also write letters to your providers asking them to be patient and accept payment from the proceeds of your case.  Many times these types of letters are helpful to our clients, but not always.  Be sure to keep us informed if you are being called upon for past due bills.

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What is subrogation?
Subrogation is a principle that generally means you cannot be paid twice for the same damages.  If someone (or some insurance company) pays for something (a medical bill) on your behalf and then someone else (the at-fault person or their insurance company) pays you for that same bill, then you have to pay back the money you originally received from the person or company that was not at-fault but was contractually responsible for paying your bills.  For example, if you had health insurance with ABC Insurance and it has paid some of your medical bills, when you finally obtain a recovery or settlement funds as a result of your accident or injury, we will probably have to pay ABC Insurance back.  The same is true for medpay benefits paid under an automobile policy or homeowner’s policy of insurance.  If a public agency such as welfare, Medicaid, or Medicare paid some of your medical bills, we will definitely have to pay them back.  You should understand it because it may affect the amount of your eventual recovery or settlement funds and it may work in your favor if handled properly.

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What is the difference between a claim and a lawsuit?
We find that many of our clients experience apprehension, anxiety, or even guilt about being involved in a lawsuit or suing someone else for their injuries.  First, you must understand there is a big difference between submitting a personal injury claim (usually to an insurance company) and filing a lawsuit.  Only ten to 20 percent of our clients actually end up in a lawsuit regarding their injury case, although the trend has been increasing as more insurance companies take a hard line stance in negotiations.  When you retain us to represent you, we investigate and document your injury case and submit the claim to the insurer in an attempt to negotiate a fair settlement.  It is only when the insurance company refuses to offer a fair settlement or denies responsibility for your injury that a lawsuit becomes necessary.  Second, the only reason any injury case has value is because you have the right, under our civil justice system, to have a jury of your peers settle any dispute you have regarding the value of your injury.  With this in mind, we must prepare every case with an eye toward proving your damages to a jury and only then will the insurance company offer a fair settlement to avoid going to court in your case.

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What happens if my vehicle is damaged in an accident that is not my fault?
By far the greatest complaint we hear from clients has to do with the way the insurance companies handle automobile property damage.  Unfortunately, the law does not give us much ammunition to fight them in this area and for the most part your property damage can be handled without our involvement.  If you encounter problems with the property damage portion of your case, do not hesitate to contact us and we will try to assist you.

If liability for an accident is accepted, the at-fault party’s insurance company is required by law to pay for the damage to your car and provide a reasonable replacement vehicle (rental) while your car is being repaired.  They do not have to rent you a Mercedes Benz.  However, if you use your vehicle for work (i.e., a pick-up truck to move materials to a job site or you have a minivan to transport your children), you should request and get pre-approval from the insurance company for this type of rental to accommodate your needs.  The insurance company only has to provide a rental until the repairs are complete or they offer you the fair market value of your vehicle if it is a total loss (totaled).  The insurance company for the at-fault driver is not obligated by law to pay for the additional insurance offered by rental companies.  Therefore, you should not pay for this additional insurance unless it is necessary.   A rental vehicle is a replacement vehicle and probably covered under your automobile policy.  You should check with your automobile insurance company to verify that the rental car is covered under your policy and if so, then you can safely elect not to purchase the additional insurance.   If you have a only a liability bond or a policy that only provides liability coverage, you may be required to purchase the additional insurance on the rental vehicle and unfortunately the law does not require the at-fault insurer to reimburse you for the insurance charges on the rental bill.

If your car is totaled (meaning it would cost more to fix it than it is worth) then the insurance company is required to pay you the fair market value of your vehicle.  Make no mistake about it, there is nothing fair about fair market value, but it is the law.  The fair market value is not the blue book or NADA value nor is it what a dealership would charge you for the same car (the theory is that dealers mark up the price to make a profit and you are not a dealer).  However, many clients find that the fair market value is not enough for them to buy the same car, or even worse, they owe more to the bank than the car is worth leaving a balance after your car is totaled.  There is a type of insurance coverage that pays this difference called gap insurance.  You may have purchased this type of insurance when you bought your car, so check your paperwork and report the loss to the insurance company immediately if you have gap insurance coverage.  Note that many used car dealers that finance the sale of their cars require gap insurance so check the paperwork you received with your car.

If your car is totaled and you have to replace your car, you are entitled to the sales tax you pay on your replacement vehicle up to the fair market value of your loss vehicle.  For example, if you own a 1995 Escort worth $2,000 that is totaled in an accident that is not your fault and you replace it with a new Cadillac costing $25,000, the insurer will have to pay the sales tax on the first $2,000 only.  Sometimes the insurers pay the tax up front and sometimes they will only pay it if you provide a receipt showing the sales tax within 30 days of your vehicle being declared a total loss.  Check with the adjuster to make sure you are clear on this.

If liability (or fault) for the accident is disputed or being investigated, the other driver’s insurance company does not have to pay your property damage or provide a rental car.  In this case, you should check with your insurance company regarding your coverage.  You may have to pay a deductible under your policy, but this may be refunded to you if the other driver is later found to be at fault.

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What if I was cited for a traffic offense in connection with my personal injury motor vehicle accident case?
If you are arrested or cited as a result of an automobile collision, contact our office immediately for advice and representation.  Never plead guilty to a traffic offense and do not even pay a traffic ticket without first consulting us.

What do I do if I am involved in an automobile collision as a driver or if I witness an automobile collision?
Click here for information provided by the Ohio State Bar Association.

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Workers' compensation

Who can file a claim with the Ohio Bureau of Workers' Compensation (BWC)?
Injured workers, employers, authorized representatives, and designees can file claims with BWC.  MCOs and medical providers can also file claims.
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How long does it take to process my claim?
Immediately after receiving the First Report of Injury, BWC begins the process of gathering information and investigating the claim.  A decision will be made to allow or deny the claim within 28 days.
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How do I know what I am eligible for?
All injured workers with allowed workers' compensation claims are entitled to payment of medical bills for treatment related to the injury or occupational disease.  Following are five of the most common compensation benefits injured workers with allowed workers' compensation claims may be entitled to:

  • Payment of temporary total compensation for injured workers who are 100 percent disabled for a temporary period of time as a result of the injury or occupational disease.
  • Payment of wage loss compensation to injured workers who are working with restrictions caused by the injury which cause a reduction in earnings or who are actively seeking but are not able to find work within their physical capabilities.
  • Payment of a percentage of permanent partial disability award for residual impairment resulting from an injury or occupational disease.
  • Payment of permanent total disability (PTD) compensation to injured workers who have been declared permanently and totally disabled by the Industrial Commission of Ohio.  A declaration of PTD means that the injured worker is not capable of returning to the former position of employment or of engaging in any sustained remunerative employment.
  • Payment of a lump sum settlement award to injured workers who have agreed with their employer to settle the workers' compensation claim.

To learn more about additional benefits that may be available, read Available Benefits to Injured Workers.
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Who is the BWC Customer Service Specialist (CSS) that is handling my claim?
The name and contact number of the BWC CSS is included on the injured worker identification card that was attached to the claim number notification letter.  Or if you know your claim number you can view your claim assignment online.  Find your assigned CSS.
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What does the date of injury mean?
The date of injury refers to the date an injured worker sustained an injury, occupational disease, or death in a given claim.
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Is there a statute of limitations for filing an occupational disease claim?
Yes.  Per ORC 4123.85, an occupational disease claim must be filed according to the following guidelines:

  • Two years after the disability due to the disease began (i.e., date of disability—see below)
  • Six months after the date of diagnosis by a physician
  • Two years after a death due to the disease
  • Date of disability due to occupational disease begins on the most recent of the following dates:
  • When the injured worker first became aware of the disease through medical diagnosis
  • When the injured worker was first treated for the disease
  • When the injured worker first quit work due to the disease

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Is there a statute of limitations on the lifetime of my claim once it has been filed?
The statute of limitations on a claim is determined by the date of injury, disability or death, and the claim type.

  • Medical-only claims with dates of injury prior to Oct. 20, 1993 are statutorily closed six years from the date of injury
  • Medical-only claims with dates of injury on or after Oct. 20, 1993 are statutorily closed six years from the date of last payment of medical benefits
  • Lost-time claims are statutorily closed ten years from date of last payment of medical benefits or compensation or from the date of death.

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What is an occupational disease?
An occupational disease is a disease peculiar to a particular industrial process to which an employee is not generally subjected or exposed and is contracted in the course of employment.  Occupational diseases are generally contracted in the course of and arising out of employment, usually occurring over a period of time.  An example of an occupational disease is asbestosis.
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Why was my claim disallowed?
The answer to this question will vary based upon the individual circumstances in the claim.  If a claim is denied, it is often because of a lack of information.  BWC has 28 days to issue a decision.  If the information received at that time is not sufficient to allow the claim, then the claim will be disallowed.  The specific reason for the disallowance should be documented on the BWC order.  If you need assistance understanding the order you may contact BWC.
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Can I go to any doctor I want?
An injured worker has the right to be treated by the doctor of their choice as long as the doctor is a BWC certified provider.
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How do my medical bills get paid?
Once the claim is allowed the providers (other than pharmacies) who have treated you for the work-related injury should submit their bills to the MCO.  The MCO reviews and prices the bills and forwards them electronically to BWC.  BWC pays the MCO who in turn disburses payment to the providers.
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What is the difference between the Bureau of Workers' Compensation (BWC) and a managed care organization (MCO)?
BWC is the Ohio governmental agency responsible for Ohio’s workers' compensation system.  The MCOs are private companies selected by or assigned to each state-funded Ohio employer to medically manage the employer’s workers’ compensation claims.  BWC makes decisions regarding claim allowances and issues benefit payments.  The MCOs coordinate medical care and make treatment decisions.
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Who is the MCO for my claim?
The name, address and phone number of the MCO is printed on the injured worker identification card that was attached to the claim number notification letter.  You may contact BWC or your employer for the MCO information or you can access this information through BWC's Employer/MCO look-up.
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How do I get reimbursed for prescriptions I paid for?
If the pharmacist sent the bill information to the PBM when dispensing your prescription you do not need to do anything.  You will be reimbursed once your claim is allowed.  If you paid for your prescription and the bill information was not sent to the PBM, then you would need to have your pharmacist complete BWC Form C-17, Outpatient Medication Invoice.
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What if I paid more for the prescription than I am reimbursed?
BWC reimburses for all medical services according to the approved fee schedule.  If you paid more for your prescription than what is reimbursed, you will want to contact your pharmacy.
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Will I be paid for the entire period of time I am off work?
You will be eligible for lost time benefits if you lose more than seven days of work.  Also, the first seven days are not payable until you lose 14 consecutive days.  Other than these exceptions, most injured workers are usually paid for the entire period of time they are off.  If an injured worker is off work for three months (90 days) a medical exam may be scheduled.  Continued payment of temporary total disability will be dependent on the outcome of the independent medical exam.
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How does the BWC determine how much I will be paid while I am off work?
Compensation rates are based on your earnings prior to the injury taking into account the minimum and maximum rates applicable to the year you were injured.
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Why do the amounts of my checks vary?
There are many reasons why the amounts of your workers' compensation checks may vary.  Generally, workers' compensation benefits checks are paid in two-week increments.  Sometimes due to the beginning and ending dates on the form completed by your physician, there may be a variance in the amount of the checks received.  Also, after the first 12 weeks of temporary total the rate usually changes, and this will cause the check amount to be different.  Per Rule 4123.56, many types of workers' compensation benefits are subject to family support and this will cause a rate reduction as well.  Also, different types of compensation benefits have different applicable rates.  If you have a specific question about the amount of your check or the period of time it is paying for, contact BWC.
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How do I sign up for direct deposit?
To sign up for direct deposit, complete the ACT enrollment form, attach a voided check or deposit slip and mail to:

PO Box 15429
Columbus OH 43215-0429

Or fax the form to 614-752-8439.
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How long before my money goes directly to my bank?
Once BWC processes the authorization, it takes about six business days for your bank to verify the bank account information.  The BWC will send you a letter explaining the effective date of your authorization.  After that date, any payments made to you by BWC will be deposited into your account.

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Social Security Disability

What are the current tax, benefit and earning (COLA) amounts?
Click here for the current information.

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What do the letters after a Social Security or Medicare number mean?
The codes following a Social Security number indicate the type of benefits you are entitled to. The Social Security number followed by one of these codes is often referred to as a claim number and they are only assigned once you apply for benefits.  These letter codes may appear on correspondence that you receive from Social Security or on your Medicare card.  They will never appear on a Social Security number card.  For example, if the Social Security number of the wage earner is 123-45-6789, then once you apply for retirement benefits, your claim number is 123-45-6789A.  This number will also be used as your Medicare claim number, once you are eligible for Medicare.

Code Identification
Primary claimant (wage earner)
B Aged wife, age 62 or over
B1 Aged husband, age 62 or over
B2 Young wife, with a child in her care
B3 Aged wife, age 62 or over, second claimant
B5 Young wife, with a child in her care, second claimant
B6 Divorced wife, age 62 or over
BY Young husband, with a child in his care
C1-C9 Child - Includes minor, student or disabled child
D Aged Widow, age 60 or over
D1 Aged widower, age 60 or over
D2 Aged widow (2nd claimant)
Aged widower (2nd claimant)
D6 Surviving Divorced Wife
E Widowed Mother
E1 Surviving Divorced Mother
E4 Widowed Father
E5 Surviving Divorced Father
F1 Father
F2 Mother
F3 Stepfather
F4 Stepmother
F5 Adopting Father
F6 Adopting Mother
HA Disabled claimant (wage earner)
HB Aged wife of disabled claimant, age 62 or over
M Uninsured – Premium Health Insurance Benefits (Part A)
M1 Uninsured - Qualified for but refused Health Insurance Benefits (Part A)
T Uninsured - Entitled to HIB (Part A) under deemed or renal provisions; or Fully insured who have elected entitlement only to HIB
TA Medicare Qualified Government Employment (MQGE)
TB MQGE aged spouse
W Disabled Widow
W1 Disabled Widower
W6 Disabled Surviving Divorced Wife

NOTE: This list is not complete, but shows the most common beneficiary codes.

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Do I have to pay income tax on my Social Security benefits?
Some people who get Social Security will have to pay taxes on their benefits.  Less than one-third of our current beneficiaries pay taxes on their benefits.

You will have to pay federal taxes on your benefits if you file a federal tax return as an individual and your total income is more than $25,000.  If you file a joint return, you will have to pay taxes if you and your spouse have a total income that is more than $32,000.

For more information, call the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) toll-free at 1-800-829-3676 and ask for IRS Publication Number 915, Social Security and Equivalent Railroad Retirement Benefits.  People who are deaf or hard of hearing may call the IRS toll-free number, 1-800-829-4059.

If you wish to have federal taxes withheld from your check, see  Can I have federal taxes withheld from my Social Security check?

The Social Security Administration has no authority to withhold state or local taxes from your benefit.  Many states and local authorities do not tax Social Security benefits.  You should contact your state or local taxing authority for more information.

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Can I receive Social Security benefits and SSI?
You may be able to receive SSI in addition to monthly Social Security benefits, if your Social Security benefit is low enough to qualify.  Meanwhile, the amount of your SSI benefit depends on where you live.

The basic SSI check is the same nationwide. Effective January 2009, the SSI payment for an eligible individual is $674 per month and $1,011 per month for an eligible couple.  However, many states add money to the basic check.  Generally, the more income you have, the less your SSI benefit will be.  If your countable income is over the allowable limit, you cannot receive SSI benefits.  Some of your income may not count as income for the SSI program, however.  For example, the first $20 per month of your Social Security benefits may be excluded in determining your eligibility to SSI.

If you get SSI, you also may be able to get other help from your state or county.  For example, you may be able to get Medicaid, food stamps, or some other social services.  For information about all the services available in your community, call your local social services department or public welfare office.  For complete information on the eligibility requirements for SSI, you should read Supplemental Security Income.

You can apply for Social Security benefits online.  However, you cannot apply for SSI online.  To do so, call toll-free 1-800-772-1213 (TTY 1-800-325-0778) or visit your local Social Security office.

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How can I get a certified copy of a birth certificate?
In general you may obtain a certified copy of a birth certificate by writing or visiting the Bureau of Vital Statistics in the State where you were born.  For a complete listing of addresses by State, we recommend that you visit the National Center for Health Statistics website.  Costs and requirements vary, so review the instructions on the website first.

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Will my benefit amount be the same for the rest of my life?
Your benefit amount will not stay the same—generally, the benefit amount increases each year and protects beneficiaries against inflation.  Social Security provides an annual cost-of-living increase that is based on the consumer price index.  The 2009 increase for beneficiaries is 5.8 percent and the 2008 increase was 2.3 percent.

There is another way that your benefit might increase.  When you work, you continue to pay Social Security taxes, even though you are receiving benefits.  And because you pay these taxes, Social Security refigures your benefits to take into account your extra earnings.  If the worker's earnings for the year are higher than the earnings that were used in the original benefit computation, Social Security substitutes the new year of earnings.  The higher your earnings, the more your refigured benefit might be.

We cannot tell you here how much your benefit will increase as each case is different and we recompute your benefit using your lifetime earnings.  You need not take any special action.  A recomputation of your benefits will be done automatically in the year following the close of the year in which you worked.  Social Security usually completes all recomputations by September of the following year (remember, employers do not report your income until February 28 of the year following the year of earning).  If you are entitled to a higher benefit, it is retroactive to January of the year after the year when you had the additional earnings.

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My mother is disabled and I need to stay home to help care for her.  Does Social Security provide benefits to a caregiver or housekeeper?
No.  There is no provision in the Social Security Act to provide benefits for caregivers of the aged or disabled.  However, you may want to contact your local Social Services or Welfare department to determine if there are any locally sponsored programs that might provide you with assistance.  They may also be able to provide you with the names of organizations that might help.

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Can I borrow from my future Social Security benefits?
No. The Social Security program is not intended to be a source from which people can borrow.  The Social Security benefit program is a system of social insurance designed to protect workers and their families against the loss of earnings due to retirement, severe and extended disability, or death.  Benefits are intended to replace part of the earnings lost to the worker and the family when the worker retires, becomes disabled, or dies.  The Social Security taxes that employees and employers pay on workers' earnings are not placed in an individual worker's account, but are pooled in special funds from which benefits are paid to eligible workers and their families.  If people were permitted to borrow from the Social Security trust funds, the funds would not be available to pay benefits.  In addition, there would be problems when people were unable to repay the money they borrowed or when they became disabled or died before repayment.

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Can a child receive benefits on the record of a grandparent?
A dependent grandchild or step-grandchild may receive benefits on the record of a grandparent if the following requirements are met:

  • The grandchild's natural or adoptive parents are deceased or disabled:
    • At the time the grandparent became entitled to retirement or disability insurance benefits or died; or
    • At the beginning of the grandparent's period of disability which continued until he or she became entitled to disability or retirement insurance benefits or died.
  • The grandchild was legally adopted by the grandparent's surviving spouse in an adoption decreed by a court of competent jurisdiction within the U.S.
  • The grandchild's natural or adopting parent or stepparent must not have been living in the same household and making regular contributions to the child's support at the time the grandparent died.
  • The grandchild must have lived with the grandparent in the U.S. before reaching age 18 and received at least one-half support from the grandparent for the year before the month the grandparent began receiving retirement or disability benefits or died.

Can I opt out of Social Security?
No. Social Security coverage is mandatory.  But consider this: unlike your private plan, Social Security provides disability and survivors coverage in addition to retirement benefits.  And Social Security generally offers greater protection for family members than private pensions.

The law also does not permit a refund of Social Security taxes. The authority for the collection of taxes, including Social Security taxes, is found in the Internal Revenue Code, not the Social Security Act. (See sections 3101(a) and 3102(a) of the Code.) We suggest that you direct any questions you may have about tax liability to that Agency for consideration. The address is:
Internal Revenue Service
1111 Constitution Avenue NW
Washington, D.C. 20224

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How can I obtain proof of my military service?
Social Security often needs to have proof of military service.  The DD-214 (Certificate of Release or Discharge from Active Duty) is the document most often used as proof of military service.

The SF-180 is the form completed for this request.  You can make an online request for proof of military service from the National Archives.  See How to Request Military Service Records or Prove Military Service for more information.

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Is a copy of my birth certificate good enough to prove my age?
It depends.  If your copy is signed by the agency that issued your birth certificate and carries an official seal, then it is acceptable.  We cannot accept an uncertified photocopy.

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What are the requirements to receive Social Security benefits?
Social Security reaches almost every family, and at some point will touch the lives of nearly all Americans.  Social Security helps not only older Americans, but also workers who become disabled and families in which a spouse or parent dies.  Today, more than 163 million people work and pay Social Security taxes and more than 50 million people receive monthly Social Security benefits.  Most beneficiaries are retirees and their families—about 34 million people.  But Social Security was never meant to be the only source of income for people when they retire.  Social Security replaces about 40 percent of an average wage earner’s income after retiring, and most financial advisors say retirees will need about 70–80 percent of their work income to live comfortably in retirement. To have a comfortable retirement, Americans need much more than just Social Security.  They also need private pensions, savings, and investments.

The Social Security Administration wants you to understand what Social Security can mean to you and your family’s financial future. Their publication, Understanding The Benefits, explains the basics of the Social Security retirement, disability, and ­survivors insurance programs.

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I am a surviving divorced spouse. Can I receive benefits on my ex-spouse’s record?
A deceased worker's former spouse age 60 or older (as early as age 50 if disabled) may qualify for benefits if the marriage lasted at least 10 years.  However, a former spouse does not have to meet the age or length-of-marriage rule if he or she is caring for the deceased worker's child younger than age 16 or disabled and entitled based on the deceased worker's record.  The child also must be the former spouse's natural or legally adopted child.

Take a look at "Survivor Benefits" (Pub. No. 05-10084) for more information.  Benefits paid to a surviving divorced spouse 60 or older will not affect the payment amount for other survivors.

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How much can I earn and still receive disability benefits?
We have special rules called work incentives that help you keep your cash benefits and Medicare while you test your ability to work.  For example, there is a trial work period during which you can receive full benefits regardless of how much you earn, as long as you report your work activity and continue to have a disabling impairment.

The trial work period continues until you accumulate nine months (not necessarily consecutive) in which you perform what we call services within a rolling 60-month period.  We consider your work to be services if you earn more than $700 a month in 2009.  For 2008, this amount was $670.

After the trial work period ends, your benefits will stop for months your earnings are at a level we consider "substantial," currently $980 in 2009. For 2008, this amount was $940.  Different amounts apply to people who are disabled because of blindness. The monthly substantial amount for statutorily blind individuals for 2009 is $1,640; for 2008 this amount was $1,570.

For an additional 36 months after completing the trial work period, we can start your benefits again if your earnings fall below the "substantial" level and you continue to have a disabling impairment. For more information about work incentives, we recommend that you read the leaflet, Working While Disabled-How We Can Help (SSA Publication Number 05-10095).

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What is the difference between Social Security disability and SSI disability?

The Social Security Administration is responsible for two major programs that provide benefits based on disability: Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI), which is based on prior work under Social Security, and Supplemental Security Income (SSI).  Under SSI, payments are made on the basis of financial need.

Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) is financed with Social Security taxes paid by workers, employers, and self-employed persons.  To be eligible for a Social Security benefit, the worker must earn sufficient credits based on taxable work to be "insured" for Social Security purposes.  Disability benefits are payable to blind or disabled workers, widow(er)s, or adults disabled since childhood, who are otherwise eligible.  The amount of the monthly disability benefit is based on the Social Security earnings record of the insured worker.

Supplemental Security Income (SSI) is a program financed through general revenues.  SSI disability benefits are payable to adults or children who are disabled or blind, have limited income and resources, meet the living arrangement requirements, and are otherwise eligible.  The monthly payment varies up to the maximum federal benefit rate, which may be supplemented by the State or decreased by countable income and resources.  See Understanding Supplemental Security Income for an explanation of SSI benefit payment rates.

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Can I receive Social Security benefits and SSI?

You may be able to receive SSI in addition to monthly Social Security benefits, if your Social Security benefit is low enough to qualify.

Meanwhile, the amount of your SSI benefit depends on where you live. The basic SSI check is the same nationwide. Effective January 2009, the SSI payment for an eligible individual is $674 per month and $1,011 per month for an eligible couple. However, many states add money to the basic check. Generally, the more income you have, the less your SSI benefit will be. If your countable income is over the allowable limit, you cannot receive SSI benefits. Some of your income may not count as income for the SSI program, however. For example, the first $20 per month of your Social Security benefits may be excluded in determining your eligibility to SSI.

If you get SSI, you also may be able to get other help from your state or county. For example, you may be able to get Medicaid, food stamps, or some other social services. For information about all the services available in your community, call your local social services department or public welfare office.

For complete information on the eligibility requirements for SSI, you should read Supplemental Security Income.

You can apply for Social Security benefits online. However, you cannot apply for SSI online. To do so, call our toll-free number, 1-800-772-1213 (TTY 1-800-325-0778) or visit your local Social Security office.

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Do disabled children qualify for benefits?
There are two Social Security disability programs that include disabled children.

Under the Supplemental Security Income (SSI) program, a child from birth to age 18 may receive monthly payments based on disability or blindness if:

Under the Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) program, an adult child (a person age 18 or older) may receive monthly benefits based on disability or blindness if:

  • He or she has an impairment or combination of impairments that meets the definition of disability for adults; and
  • The disability began before age 22
  • The adult child's parent worked long enough to be insured under Social Security and is receiving retirement or disability benefits or is deceased

Under both of these programs, the child must not be doing any "substantial" work, and must have a medical condition that has lasted or is expected either to last for at least 12 months or to result in death.

You will find helpful links to the online forms and the steps you need to take to apply for childhood disability benefits at www.socialsecurity.gov/applyfordisability. At this time, you cannot complete an application for SSI childhood disability online, but you can complete the Child Disability Report Form online. You can also view the Fact Sheet and Checklist in the Child Disability Starter Kit to see what information you will need and the kinds of questions we will ask when you have your disability interview in your local Social Security office or over the phone. The Disability Report asks for information about the child's conditions or impairments.

Call 1-800-772-1213 (TTY 1-800-325-0778) or visit your local Social Security office right away so that you do not lose potential benefits, even if you complete the Disability Report Form online.

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How long does it take to get notified of a decision about disability benefits?
The length of time it takes to receive a decision on your disability claim is from three to five months.  It can vary depending on several factors, but primarily on:

  • The nature of your disability
  • How quickly we obtain medical evidence from your doctor or other medical source
  • Whether it is necessary to send you for a medical examination in order to obtain evidence to support your claim
  • If your claim is randomly selected for quality assurance review of the decision

If you have further questions, call toll-free 1-800-772-1213 or TTY 1-800-325-0778.

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Is there a time limit on Social Security disability benefits?
No. Your disability benefits will continue as long as your medical condition has not improved and you cannot work.  Your case will be reviewed at regular intervals to make sure you are still disabled.

If you are still receiving disability benefits when you reach full retirement age, they will automatically be converted to retirement benefits.

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Do disability benefits change once I turn full retirement age?
When you reach full retirement age, nothing will change, except for Social Security purposes, your benefits will be called retirement benefits instead of disability benefits.  You do not need to take any action.

Starting with the month you reach full retirement age, you will get your benefits with no limit on your earnings.

What Is Your Full Retirement Age?

Year of Birth Full Retirement Age
1937 or earlier 65
1938 65 and 2 months
1939 65 and 4 months
1940 65 and 6 months
1941 65 and 8 months
1942 65 and 10 months
1943--1954 66
1955 66 and 2 months
1956 66 and 4 months
1957 66 and 6 months
1958 66 and 8 months
1959 66 and 10 months
1960 and later 67

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Why is there a five-month waiting period for Social Security disability benefits?
The five-month waiting period ensures that during the early months of disability, we do not pay benefits to persons who do not have long-term disabilities.  Social Security disability benefits can be paid only after you have been disabled continuously throughout a period of five full calendar months. Therefore, Social Security disability benefits will be paid beginning with the sixth full month after the date your disability began.  You are not entitled to benefits for any month in the waiting period.

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Will I automatically get Medicare benefits if I get disability benefits?
We will automatically enroll you in Medicare after you get disability benefits for two years. (Note: Residents of Puerto Rico or foreign countries will not receive Part B automatically. They must elect this benefit.)  We start counting the 24 months from the month you were entitled to receive Disability, not the month when you received your first check.

People with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (Lou Gehrig's disease) get Medicare beginning with the month they become entitled to disability benefits.

Medicare has two parts - hospital insurance and medical insurance. Hospital insurance helps pay hospital bills and some follow-up care. The taxes you paid while you were working financed this coverage, so it's premium free. The other part of Medicare, medical insurance, helps pay doctors' bills and other services. You will pay a monthly premium for this coverage if you want it.

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I receive disability and my condition has worsened.  Can my benefit be increased?
No. Your Social Security disability benefit is based on the amount of your lifetime earnings before your disability began and not the degree or severity of your disability.  For more information go to:  www.socialsecurity.gov/dibplan/dapproval2.htm.

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What is the earliest age that I can receive disability benefits?
There is no minimum age as long as you meet the very strict social security definition of disability. But to qualify for disability benefits you must have worked long and recently enough under Social Security to earn the required number of work credits. You can earn up to a maximum of four work credits each year. The amount of earnings required for a credit increases each year as general wage levels rise.

The number of work credits you need for disability benefits depends on your age when you become disabled.  The rules for how much work you need to qualify for disability benefits are as follows:

  • Before age 24—You may qualify if you have 6 credits earned in the 3-year period ending when your disability starts.
  • Age 24 to 31—You may qualify if you have credit for working half the time between age 21 and the time you become disabled. For example, if you become disabled at age 27, you would need credit for 3 years of work (12 credits) out of the past 6 years (between ages 21 and 27).
  • Age 31 or older—In general, you need to have the number of work credits shown in the chart below. Unless you are blind, you must have earned at least 20 of the credits in the 10 years immediately before you became disabled.
Born after 1929,
Become Disabled At Age
Number of Credits You Need
31 through 42
62 or older


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How do workers' compensation payments affect my disability benefits?
Disability payment you receive from workers' compensation and/or another public disability payment may reduce your and your family's Social Security benefits.

Your Social Security disability benefit will be reduced so that the combined amount of the Social Security benefit you and your family receive plus your workers' compensation payment and/or public disability payment does not exceed 80 percent of your average current earnings. (Note that the unreduced benefit amount is counted for income tax purposes.)

A workers' compensation payment is one that is made to a worker because of a job-related injury or illness. It may be paid by federal or state workers' compensation agencies, employers, or insurance companies on behalf of employers.

Public disability (PDB) payments that may affect your Social Security benefit are those paid under a federal, state, or local government law or plan.  A PDB is not usually based on a work-related disability.  They differ from workers' compensation because the disability that the worker has may not be job-related. Examples are civil service disability benefits, state temporary disability benefits, and state or local government retirement benefits which are based on disability.

For more information, see How Workers' Compensation And Other Disability Payments May Affect Your Benefits (SSA Publication No. 05-10018).

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Can a person with a terminal illness qualify for disability benefits?
Yes. The requirements for disability benefits are the same for a person with a potentially terminal illness as for a person with a non-terminal illness.

We make every effort to identify a case involving a person with a potentially terminal illness as early in the claims process as possible and we have special procedures we follow to process the claim as quickly as possible. We may become aware of the potentially terminal illness through statements from the person claiming disability, or from the person’s friend, family member, doctor or other medical source. Or there may be an allegation or diagnosis of AIDS, or indications that the person is registered in a Medicare-designated hospice or is receiving hospice care.  Regardless of the potentially terminal illness or how we learn about it, we tightly control the case throughout the claims process and make special efforts to assist the person in providing necessary evidence.

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How many credits are required to be eligible for disability?
The number of work credits you need to qualify for disability benefits depends on your age when you become disabled.  Also, the credits must have been earned within a certain time period. Generally, you need 20 credits earned in the last 10 years, ending with the year you become disabled.

Younger workers may qualify with fewer credits.  For example:

  • A worker who becomes disabled before age 24 needs to have earned six credits in the three-year period ending when disability starts.
  • A worker who becomes disabled between age 24 to age 31 needs to have credits for half the time between age 21 and the time disability starts. If disability starts at age 27, the worker would need credit for three years of work (12 credits) out of the past six years between age 21 and age 27.

For additional information, read Disability (SSA Publication No.05-10029).

Information provided by Social Security Online.

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Nager, Romaine & Schneiberg Co., L.P.A.
27730 Euclid Avenue
Cleveland, OH, 44132 USA