Health Reform WK-EDGE Judge upholds jury verdict in action alleging hospital failed to provide reasonable accommodations
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Monday, April 6, 2020

Judge upholds jury verdict in action alleging hospital failed to provide reasonable accommodations

By Karin Hicks, J.D.

Court will not second-guess jury verdict in favor of hospital after finding that the jury properly weighed all evidence presented in court.

A complaint was filed in 2017 by the relative of a patient at Montefiore Medical Center (Montefiore) alleging that the hospital failed to provide an American Sign Language (ASL) interpreter upon request on four separate occasions. A jury trial held in November 2019 resulted in a verdict for the hospital. The relative filed a motion for judgment as a matter of law and for conditional grant of a new trial. The court reviewed the decision of the jury and found that the jury did not rely on speculation nor was it seriously erroneous. For this reason, the court upheld the jury’s verdict and denied the relative’s motion for a new trial (Vega-Ruiz v. Montefiore Medical Center, March 26, 2020, Aaron, S.).

Failure to provide ASL interpreter. The relative, who was born deaf, communicates using ASL. She stated in her complaint that she accompanied her mother to Montefiore on four occasions between March 2014 and March 2015. She alleges that she was not provided an ASL interpreter despite requesting one. Her action alleged violations under the Americans with Disabilities Act, the Rehabilitation Act, the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, the New York State Human Rights Law, and the New York City Human Rights Law (NYCHRL).

The relative’s case relied primarily upon her own testimony and the testimony of her mother, the patient. Both women testified that they asked Montefiore employees to provide an ASL interpreter during emergency room visits, but none was provided. However, neither woman could recall who they asked or any details about the employees involved. Hospital employees testified that they are required to provide aids and services to a patient, relative, or companion who is deaf or hard of hearing. Additionally, the employees testified that all requests and offers to provide these services must be documented in the medical record.

The evidence submitted at trial showed that there were no references in the medical records to indicate any requests had been made for ASL interpretations services. Further, hospital records indicate that family was present on only one of the visits. The jury returned a verdict in favor of Montefiore. The relative filed a motion for judgment as a matter of law and for conditional grant of a new trial under NYCHRL only.

Ruling. The relative moved for judgment as a matter of law under NYCHRL. She argued that the jury lacked legally sufficient basis to find for the hospital and that her testimony was uncontroverted proof that Montefiore violated its duty to provide reasonable accommodations under NYCHRL. The judge sided with the hospital and found that the jury gave proper credit to the evidence of hospital policy and records over the testimony of the relative and her mother.

Rather than merely speculating, the jury properly weighed all the evidence before it, including the medical records, and ruled in favor of the hospital. As such, there was no basis in the record to overturn the jury’s verdict and the relative’s motion was denied.

The relative also motioned for a new trial, stating that the jury’s verdict was seriously erroneous and a miscarriage of justice. The legal arguments relied upon in this motion were essentially the same as those in her motion for judgment as a matter of law, though she also asserts that the hospital relied upon a new argument that had not been included in the pre-trial order. The court found that the verdict was neither seriously erroneous nor a miscarriage of justice. Again, the judge indicated that the jury made credibility determinations that should not be disturbed. Additionally, the relative’s assertion that the hospital relied on an argument not included in the pre-trial order was dismissed by the judge as erroneous. For these reasons, the court determined that there is no reason to grant a new trial and the motion was denied.

The case is No. 1:17-cv-01804 (SDA).

Attorneys: David John Hommel, Jr. (Eisenberg & Baum, LLP) for Lizzette Vega-Ruiz. Roy W. Breitenbach (Garfunkel Wild, P.C.) for Montefiore Medical Center.

Companies: Montefiore Medical Center

Cases: CaseDecisions AccessNews GeneralNews QualityNews NewYorkNews NewsFeed

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