11th Cir. Rules Hospitals Must Face Unreliable Disability Accommodation Claim

An opinion was released in an Eleventh Circuit case originally brought by two deaf patients at hospitals, alleging that the plaintiffs were denied live interpretive services, preventing them from participating in their care. The court reversed the dismissal of claims for monetary damages, holding that a pattern of ignoring unreliable interpretation systems could violate disability protections.

The patients, Cheylla Silva and John Jebian, were treated on several occasions in the defendant hospitals. They requested sign language interpretation assistance to participate in their care, but the defendants relied upon a remote interpretive service called video remote interpreting (VRI), which was noticeably unreliable, the opinion said. When the service failed, the plaintiffs said the hospital did not provide live interpretive services and relied upon family member assistance and handwritten notes to communicate, which impaired the patients’ participation in their own treatment.

The patients sued, seeking monetary damages and declaratory and injunctive relief. The first decision in the case was remanded to the trial court with directions that the plaintiffs were not required to show any adverse consequence resulting from the ineffective communication in order to have damages worthy of recompense.

On remand, the trial court dismissed the claims for monetary damages, indicating that the plaintiffs could not prove the required element of deliberate indifference necessary to receive those damages. The appeals court remanded the monetary damages claim for further review by the trial court, indicating that a pattern of deliberately ignoring the lack of reliability of the VRI system could be construed as deliberate indifference to the requirements for compliance with disability accommodations.

The patients were represented by the Disability Independence Group, the Hickey Law Firm, and the Kawel Law Firm. The hospitals were represented by Isicoff Ragatz & Koenigsberg.