Health Reform WK-EDGE Hospital may face damages for failing to provide interpreter services for deaf patients
Thursday, June 6, 2019

Hospital may face damages for failing to provide interpreter services for deaf patients

By Leah S. Poniatowski, J.D.

Patients granted leave to amend prospective harm claim, asserted adequate claim for intentional discrimination under federal laws.

A hospital in Illinois may be liable for damages to an engaged deaf couple who were not provided adequate sign language interpreter services during their treatment and stay at the facility after specifically requesting the service, a federal district court in Illinois ruled, holding that their allegations of discrimination under the Rehabilitation Act and the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act were sufficient to survive dismissal. The court determined that the injunction plea had not been sufficiently pleaded but allowed the couple to replead (Ayling v. Memorial Health System, May 23, 2019, Schanzle-Haskins, T.).

Background. An engaged couple from Concord, Illinois, both sought medical treatment on several occasions at Memorial Medical Center. Both fiancés are deaf and communicate through American Sign Language with a limited ability to understand written English. Neither can read lips. The couple had informed the staff at the hospital that they required an interpreter, but on over five occasions the hospital failed to provide adequate interpreter services during the procedures and while hospitalized. The couple asserted claims that their rights, individually, had been violated under the Americans with Disabilities Act (42 U.S.C. ¶ 12131), the Rehabilitation Act (29 U.S.C. § 704), and the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (42 U.S.C. § 18116). They sought declarative and injunctive relief to enjoin future violations in addition to compensatory relief.

Prospective injunctive relief. The court determined that the claim for injunctive relief failed because the couple did not allege a "real and immediate threat of injury" from the hospital’s actions. The couple contended that the fiancé’s medical condition will likely require hospital services, but as pleaded, that claim was not sufficient to demonstrate future harm. The court explained that the allegations did not establish that the fiancé will require hospitalization or otherwise return to Memorial for services and, accordingly, the couple were granted leave to replead the claim.

Intentional discrimination. Under the Rehabilitation Act and the ACA, intentional discrimination is a necessary element to prove in addition to deliberate indifference. The couple’s allegation that the hospital repeatedly failed to provide interpreters after being repeatedly informed that they were necessary for communication with the couple was sufficient under governing appellate case law. Thus, Memorial’s motion to dismiss was denied on this issue.

The case is No. 19-cv-3091.

Attorneys: Andres J. Gallegos (Robbins Salomon & Patt Ltd) for Peter Ayling, Jr. John A Kauerauf (Sorling Northrup) for Memorial Medical Center.

Companies: Memorial Medical Center

Cases: CaseDecisions AccessNews AgencyNews NewsFeed

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