Four deaf patients who were denied sign language interpreters won a $700,000 settlement from a hospital in Newark, N.J., which now promises to have interpreters available.
The settlement Jersey City Medical Center agreed to June 15 is the largest ever paid by a hospital under a 1973 federal law requiring the interpreters, according to the National Association of the Deaf Law Center.
The patients went to the hospital at least 300 times over a decade and never once had interpreters, even though one had a Caesarean section and another was HIV-positive, attorney Clara Smit said.
"They all suffered trauma," Smit told the Star-Ledger of Newark. "It's kind of like veterinary medicine when you're treating them without telling them anything about their condition."
In one case, hospital staff suggested Ida Hickson use her 9-year-old son to translate while she sought help for her 3-year-old daughter who had the flu, Smit said.
Smit said many of the nation's hospitals don't provide the required interpreters.
"We're hoping this will tell other hospitals that they better start doing it," she said. "Otherwise, you're going to have to pay."
Jonathan Metsch, Jersey City's president, said his hospital has interpreters available who speak 28 foreign languages, and he said sign language interpreters would be added to the roster.
"When you're an institution like ours, it's a pretty heavy responsibility to have this available for everyone, but we are really making a major effort to make sure this doesn't happen again," he said.