ADA: Whether Hospitals Were “Deliberately Indifferent” to Effective Communication Is a Question for Jury

July 19, 2017 | Strategic Insights for Health System


​A U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit concluded that whether absence of auxiliary aids and services prevented effective communication between hospital staff and profoundly deaf individuals—and whether the defendant hospitals were deliberately indifferent to this issue—are questions of fact to be determined by a jury. In so finding, the appellate court reversed the district court's summary judgment on behalf of the hospitals and their parent company, and remanded the case for further proceedings.

Two individuals—both of whom are profoundly deaf and allegedly could not communicate effectively with hospital staff in the absence of auxiliary aids and services on several occasions—sued the defendant hospitals and their parent corporation, seeking injunctive relief and monetary damages for unlawful discrimination under Title III of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act. The district court awarded two counts of summary judgment to the defendants. First, the court found that the plaintiffs lacked standing to seek injunctive relief because they did not demonstrate that they were likely to visit the hospitals in the future. Second, the court determined that the plaintiffs' medical records reflected that they were able to communicate their chief medical complaints and understand their treatment plans and discharge instructions—thereby failing to show adverse consequences and precluding their ineffective communication claims. The...

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