WASHINGTON (July 17, 2006) – Sutherland Asbill & Brennan LLP today announced a landmark Consent Decree securing the rights of the deaf and hearing impaired by resolving a civil rights discrimination lawsuit under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1978.
Sutherland, together with the Washington Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights and Urban Affairs, originally filed an ADA/civil rights lawsuit against Dimensions Health Care d/b/a Laurel Regional Hospital (MD) on January 11, 2005, on behalf of seven deaf individuals who sought treatment at Laurel Hospital in Laurel, Md. Despite their specific and repeated requests for in-person qualified sign language interpreters, the complaint alleges that the plaintiffs were forced to communicate through cryptic notes, lip-reading and inadequate video interpreting services (VIS), or were provided with no communication at all during critical medical situations. The complaint alleges further that the plaintiffs were unable to provide informed consent to treatment, were denied the opportunity to participate in their treatment, and were denied the full benefit of the health care services provided by the Hospital, in violation of their civil rights and the ADA.
The allegations of inadequate VIS are of particular importance. These services provide means of utilizing a remote interpreter through videoconferencing technology. Although VIS are effective in some situations, the services must be monitored in hospital settings to ensure they provide effective communication and are not used with patients whose disabilities may prevent them from being able to see the video screen or camera.
The Consent Decree, filed on July 14, 2006 with the U.S. District Court for the District of Maryland, is the first ADA case resolution to include criteria for VIS. The Decree requires several improvements to the Hospital's facilities, equipment, policies and procedures. The Hospital will incorporate these changes, including communication assessments upon arrival, appropriate use of auxiliary aids and services, providing access to video interpreting services, presence of hearing aid compatible telephones and closed captioned televisions, visible notices of the rights of hearing impaired patients, and mandatory staff training to ensure compliance. Approval of the Consent Decree is expected shortly.
"We applaud Laurel Hospital for its efforts to adhere to these necessary improvements," said Lewis S. Wiener, a litigation partner with Sutherland, who represented the plaintiffs pro bono. "The agreements reached in this Decree will undoubtedly continue to benefit the members of the hearing impaired community and sets the standard for other hospitals serving the needs of the deaf and hearing impaired."
"The seven plaintiffs in this case are courageous people whose principle motivation in bringing this matter was to make sure that what happened to them never happens again to any deaf person in need to emergency medical attention," said Thomas R. Bundy, III, a litigation associate with Sutherland who devoted substantial time to the case.
In addition to Mr. Wiener and Mr. Bundy Sutherland Associates Carter L. Williams and Rachana Desai were involved in the matter. Messrs. Wiener and Bundy are available to comment on the case.
Sutherland Asbill & Brennan LLP is a national law firm known for solving challenging business problems and resolving unique legal issues for many of the nation's largest companies. Founded in 1924, the firm has grown to more than 425 lawyers with offices in Atlanta, Austin, Houston, New York, Tallahassee and Washington. For further information about the firm, please visit sutherland.com.