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A Florida hospital may have violated federal discrimination law when it delayed providing a deaf patient with an American Sign Language interpreter, a federal appeals court ruled in overturning a lower court ruling.
Harold Crane, who is profoundly deaf and suffers from chronic depressive and anxiety disorders, was transported to Palmetto General Hospital in Hialeah, Florida, on July 17, 2011, by Miami-Dade police who had responded to a call that he was suicidal, according to Thursday’s ruling by the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Miami in Harold Carne v. Lifemark Hospitals Inc.et al.
Upon arrival, he was treated for alcohol-related disease, including suspected consumption of rubbing alcohol, according to the ruling. The next day, he was admitted to the hospital for medical reasons stemming from his intoxication.
A doctor evaluated him that day as part of an involuntary commitment evaluation and determined Mr. Crane was not a threat to himself or others. She communicated with Mr. Crane through written notes and “her basic sign language skills,” according to the ruling.
On July 20, a sign language interpreter was present for the first time to assist the doctor in communicating with Mr. Crane. He was discharged later that day. Mr. Crane said he had repeatedly asked for a sign language interpreter throughout his entire hospital stay.
Mr. Crane filed suit in U.S. District Court in Miami charging violations of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 and the Americans with Disabilities Act. The District Court granted the defendants’ motion for summary judgment, which was unanimously overturned by a three-judge appeals court panel.
“At issue in this appeal is whether Crane was afforded an equal opportunity, through an appropriate auxiliary aid, to effectively communicate medically relevant information during his involuntary commitment evaluation,” the ruling states.
“At a bare minimum” the doctor’s notes provide “evidence that Crane could not understand and suffered a real hindrance due to his disability to provide material information with his health care provider.
“Thus, a genuine issue of material fact exists as to the question of whether there was effective communication,” the court ruled, in holding also there was evidence of deliberate indifference.
The panel reversed the lower court’s summary judgment dismissing the case and remanded it for further proceedings.
In 2015, McDonald’s Corp. was charged with disability discrimination by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission for refusing to provide a sign language interpreter for a deaf employee candidate.