In a victory for deaf people, a federal appeals court has paved the way for five Boynton Beach area residents to sue Bethesda Memorial Hospital for not taking steps to assure they understood what was happening to them when they got medical treatment.
While the decision directly affects those who sued the hospital, last week’s ruling by the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals has far-reaching impacts, said Matthew Dietz, a disability rights attorney who represents the elderly patients and the Florida Association for the Deaf in the long-running lawsuit.
In its decision, the Atlanta-based appeals court clarified what Dietz called “a murky” area of the law that has confounded the deaf when they tried to force hospitals to make sure they understand what doctors and nurses are saying. As a result, five of the nine patients who filed suit can seek damages from the hospital. The association and one of the patients can seek an injunction that would require the hospital to assure the needs of the deaf are met, said Dietz, who filed the lawsuit with attorney Clara Smits.
In the lawsuit, patients described how scared and confused they were when doctors and nurses used gestures or passed notes to them to explain medical procedures. The medical professionals resorted to such methods because of the failure of a video system the hospital uses to communicate with the deaf.