Jury Awards Deaf Patient $400,000 for Doctor’s failure to Provide Interpreter

In a remarkable development, a New Jersey jury has just awarded a deaf patient $400,000 for her doctor’s failure to provide an American Sign Language (“ASL”) interpreter.

According to the complaint filed by the patient, Irma Gerena, she was referred to a Jersey City-based rheumatologist in 2004. She alleged that she visited the rheumatologist for her Lupus approximately twenty times during the next two years. During the trial, she testified that her requests that the doctor hire an ASL interpreter fell on deaf ears and thus she was forced to rely upon the imprecise interpretation of her domestic partner and minor child.

According to the New Jersey Law Journal, the rheumatologist-defendant testified that the cost for an ASL interpreter would have been $175-200/hour. He further testified that the healthcare insurance reimbursement would have only been approximately $49 per visit. Therefore, he argued that it would be unreasonable to require him to pay an ASL interpreter in view of the economics of the situation.

The patient-plaintiff argued that her rheumatologist had a duty to provide an ASL interpreter under the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”) and New Jersey’s Law Against Discrimination (“NJ LAD”). She alleged in her complaint that his failure to comply with these anti-discrimination laws left her with “no clear understanding of her condition, treatment or prognosis” and caused her to experience “shame, anxiety, emotional distress, fear, and discrimination.” Ultimately, the jury sided with the patient and awarded compensatory and punitive damages.

In an upcoming blog, we will consider the requirements of the ADA and similar state laws. We will also explore the ramifications of these laws for healthcare providers who treat physically or mentally challenged patients.

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