March 14, 2018

Deaf woman sues Hartford HealthCare for not providing interpreter

A deaf woman from Windsor has filed suit in federal court against Hartford HealthCare (HHC), alleging her rights were violated when she wasn't provided sign language interpreters during her 12-day stay at Hartford Hospital last summer.

Marisa Felix, who communicates primarily through American Sign Language, alleges the hospital violated the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Rehabilitation Act of 1973.

A Hartford HealthCare spokesman said Wednesday the health system doesn't comment on pending litigation.

In the suit, filed March 7 in U.S. District Court, Felix says she repeatedly requested qualified sign language interpreters to communicate effectively with her, but was not provided them. Hospital staff instead attempted to communicate by speaking to her, observing her gestures and giving her paperwork, which proved ineffective, the suit says. The hospital also tried using her son to communicate to her, but he's not a trained sign language interpreter and that also was ineffective, the suit says.

Without qualified interpreters, Felix was not able to understand fully the tests, diagnoses, medications, instructions for follow-up care or ask questions of her providers, the suit says.

"As a result of the lack of qualified interpreters, Ms. Felix was perpetually in a state of emotional upset, confusion and uncertainty about what was happening to her," according to the suit. As a result, Felix has been injured and suffered emotional pain, suffering, mental anguish and other nonpecuniary losses, it adds.

The suit seeks to prohibit HHC from violating federal law, as well as unspecified compensatory damages and attorneys fees.

Felix's attorney, Nancy Alisberg, legal director for Disability Rights Connecticut, said, "As one of the hospitals involved in a landmark settlement in 1998 on this exact issue, Hartford Hospital is well aware of its obligations to ensure effective communication with the deaf community under the ADA."

Several area hospitals have settled disability rights cases in recent years, including UConn John Dempsey Hospital and Hartford's St. Francis Hospital and Medical Center.

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