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Court Allows Hospitals To Be Sued Over Deaf Services

Leon County Judge John Cooper on June 30, 2022, in a screen grab from The Florida Channel.
p1 lawyer
The Florida Channel
Leon County Judge John Cooper on June 30, 2022, in a screen grab from The Florida Channel.

A federal appeals court Monday cleared the way for a lawsuit against two South Florida hospitals facing allegations that they did not properly provide interpreter services to deaf people.

The 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals overturned a lower-court ruling in favor of Baptist Hospital of Miami and South Miami Hospital and their parent organization, Baptist Health South Florida.

Cheylla Silva and John Paul Jebian, who are deaf and primarily use American Sign Language to communicate, filed the lawsuit alleging that the hospitals failed to provide appropriate communication aids. The pair requested on-site interpreters when they needed care, but the hospitals used what are known as “video remote interpreting,” according to Monday's ruling.

A district judge granted summary judgment to the hospitals, finding that the Silva and Jebian did not show that the denial of their requests for interpreters resulted in “adverse medical consequences” or inhibited their communication of medical complaints or instructions about treatment plans.

But a three-member panel of the appeals court said the lawsuit, brought under the Americans with Disabilities Act and another federal law, should be allowed to move forward.

“There can be no question that the exchange of information between doctor and patient is part-and-parcel of health care services,” said the 33-page ruling, written by Senior Judge David Ebel and joined by judges Frank Hull and Beverly Martin. “Thus, regardless of whether a patient ultimately receives the correct diagnosis or medically acceptable treatment, that patient has been denied the equal opportunity to participate in health care services whenever he or she cannot communicate medically relevant information effectively with medical staff. It is not dispositive that the patient got the same ultimate treatment that would have been obtained even if the patient were not deaf.”