Summary judgement denied on appeal in case of deaf patient not provided with sign language interpreter at Lifemark Hospitals

By Megan Sims | Dec 4, 2018

MIAMI — An appeals court reversed a decision to grant a motion for summary of judgement to Lifemark Hospitals after a deaf man claimed his rights had been impeded upon during a mental evaluation.  

In the initial complaint, plaintiff Harold Crane, who is deaf, alleged that defendants Lifemark Hospitals, the parent company to the Lifemark Hospitals of Florida, did not provide him reasonable accommodations during his involuntary commitment at Palmetto General Hospital.

If the allegations were true, Lifemark would be in violation of the Rehabilitation Act and Americans with Disabilities Act. Lifemark argued that they had not violated said acts, and a district court initially sided with the health-care company and granted a summary judgement.

Crane, who suffers from depressive and anxiety disorders, was forcibly admitted to Palmetto on July 17, 2011 when the Miami-Dade Police Department responded to calls that he was suicidal.

While undergoing a Baker Act examination for three days, Crane was under the care of Dr. Marjorie Caro, who had only a basic understanding of sign language, but she was able to communicate with him through writing.

It was through writing that Dr. Caro had to determine whether Crane was a danger to himself or others under the Baker Act, which she concluded he was not.

Though Crane was provided an American Sign Language interpreter on his last day, he contends that the interpreter only told him he was being discharged, leaving him to believe he was not given the opportunity to effectively communicate.

“I was never able to thoroughly express my feelings [about] the traumas I have experienced in my life during any of the doctor’s evaluations and daily interactions with the hospital’s nurse,” Crane declared in an affidavit. “I was never provided the opportunity during my hospitalization to go into detail with the hospital’s staff about why I was depressed.”

During the initial ruling, the district court believed Dr. Caro’s notes provided sufficient evidence that Crane was provided effective communication, and that Lifemark did not present any “deliberate indifference to his federally protected rights.”

After Crane filed an appeal, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit saw Dr. Caro’s notes as helping his case instead.

“At a bare minimum, this provides evidence that Crane could not understand and suffered a real hindrance due to his disability to provide material medical information with his healthcare provider,” said the appeals court ruling.

Though the court did not determine whether or not Lifemark was in violation of the law, it was decided that further proceedings would be necessary to come to a conclusion.

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