Health Reform WK-EDGE Hospital loses summary judgment motion in ADA claim
Monday, October 19, 2020

Hospital loses summary judgment motion in ADA claim

By Wendy Biddle, J.D.

Hospital failed to provide a deaf patient with preferred communication tools which is a material fact for the jury to decide.

Because a hearing impaired patient had informed the hospital where she was being treated that she prefers to use American Sign Language and the hospital used other methods of communication instead, the patient had established evidence that she may be entitled to relief under the Rehabilitation Act, the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Affordable Care Act. The court denied the hospital’s motion for summary judgment, finding that disputes of material fact were present and the three statutes provide different remedies so they are not duplicative (Tokmenko v. MetroHealth System, September 21, 2020, Boyko, C.).

The patient, who is deaf, was hospitalized at MetroHealth System after a severe motor vehicle accident in which she sustained serious life-threatening injuries, including a broken neck. The patient relies primarily on American Sign Language (ASL) to communicate and the patient’s mother informed the hospital liaison of her preference for using ASL. During her hospitalization, the hospital staff and care team used a whiteboard or pen and paper to communicate with the patient, and sometimes Video Relay Interpreting equipment. Because the patient can read and write only basic English, she alleged that these methods of communication were not effective.

The patient suit alleges that the hospital discriminated against her in violation of Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act, the American with Disabilities Act, and Section 1557 of the Affordable Care Act. The hospital filed a motion for summary judgment claiming there is no evidence of discrimination, the patient lacks standing to pursue injunctive relief under the ADA and that the plaintiff is not entitled to compensatory damages because the hospital did not act with deliberate indifference.

Duplicative claims. The hospital argued that the court should dismiss all but one of the patient’s claims because they are duplicative and are premised on the same allegation that MetroHealth failed to provide effective communication services to accommodate the patient’s disability. The court noted that no party is entitled to recover twice for the same loss, but the patient’s three statutory claims are distinct. Injunctive relief is a remedy under the ADA, but monetary damages are not available. Compensatory damages are available under the Rehabilitation Act upon showing an intent to discriminate. And the ACA requires the court to look at the Rehabilitation Act to determine whether a plaintiff can recover. The court, finding that the remedies are not the same under each statutory claim, denied the hospital’s motion to dismiss all but one of the patient’s claims.

Effective communication. The hospital argued that because the patient used the VRI three times and wrote on the whiteboard that adequate auxiliary aids were provided the patient. The patient established that her preference for sign language was made known to the hospital within hours of her admittance and was put into the hospital’s system. The patient stated in her deposition that the VRI equipment malfunctioned and she told the staff that live interpreting would be better but she was never provided an ASL interpreter. The court held that reasonable jurors could find that the hospital failed to provide a level of communication substantially equal to that afforded to hearing patients and denied the motion for summary judgment.

Standing. MetroHealth argued that the patient lacked standing to pursue injunctive relief under the ADA because she did not establish a plausible intent to return to MetroHealth. But the court noted that MetroHealth is the only Level 1 trauma center in the area where the patient lives. The patient also stated that she would return to MetroHealth if an on-site ASL interpreter were provided. The court found that the patient established a plausible intent to return to MetroHealth and satisfied the Article III standing requirements.

Monetary damages claim. Because the patient offered evidence that the hospital had notice of a necessary accommodation but that hospital’s actions resulted in ineffective communication between the patient and her medical providers at MetroHealth, the court held that reasonable jurors could find that the hospital essentially failed to act to protect the patient’s rights as a deaf person. The court also stated that a jury could reasonably find an element of deliberateness making discrimination by the hospital against the patient likely, as prohibited by Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act. Therefore the court denied MetroHealth’s motion for summary judgment on the damages claims.

The case is No. 1:18-cv-02579-CAB.

Attorneys: Andrew S. November (Liner Legal, LLC) for Alicia Tokmenko. Anna Carulas (Roetzel & Andress LLP) for MetroHealth System.

Companies: MetroHealth System

Cases: CaseDecisions AccessNews AgencyNews MedicaidNews OhioNews NewsFeed

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