Deaf Plaintiffs Sue Hospital in Federal Court -- VRI Issues

February 9, 2017


There is now a federal court battle between the Baptist Hospital Miami and two Deaf plaintiffs over the issue of VRI (Video Remote Interpreting) in hospitals.The Deaf plaintiffs, Cheylla Silva (34) and John Paul Jebian (46) say the VRI services provided by the hospital is not always effective, so they need in-person interpreters for certain situations. They say the hospitals denied the requests in favor of continuing to use the VRI and that the poor service is a violation of the ADA. 

The Deaf plaintiffs' only relationship with each other is that they are both Deaf and experienced the same frustrations. The first lawsuit was filed in 2014 — but a U.S. District judge dismissed the case a year later.

The two have appealed to the 11th Circuit Court and have the support of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division, who have filed a brief in favor of them. 

The plaintiffs are represented by attorney Matthew Dietz from Disability Independence Group (who also represents Deaf truck driver Floyd McClain in the CDL case in Florida).

The plaintiffs' argument is that the VRI is not always an equal access and effective communication for a Deaf patient. They say VRI is ineffective when using a MRI, X-ray, during child birth, or group therapy sessions. They also say the hospital did not dedicate a high-speed, wide bandwidth internet connection for the VRI, causing it to be choppy, freeze up, or drop the connection. 

A lawyer for Baptist Hospital said that while VRI is not perfect, the Deaf plaintiffs have not shown evidence that VRI caused them to be be misdiagnosed or caused them to be denied care. The hospital believes VRI “far exceeds what is required.” 

The lawyer also said the hospital does provide live interpreters, but that was countered by Dietz who said it was only after VRI failed, which proves VRI to be ineffective. 

The DOJ said the Deaf plaintiffs did not have to “prove” that their medical care suffered because of VRI in order for the court to decide if the hospital did not provide effective communication. 

This case concerns the Title III of the ADA act and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act in how hospitals treat the deaf. The question the court must answer is if the hospitals used a good standard to determine if the hospitals provided effective communication or not, and on if the lower district court made a mistake in dismissing the case.

It could be several months before the court issues their opinion/decision. It will have a big impact on what “effective communication” under the ADA means and will affect hospitals across the U.S. — affects all of us. Attorney Dietz said the court can make clear when hospitals can use VRI or an in-person interpreter. 

A reporter from the Miami Herald went to the court session last week and said the majority of the questions were related on if the VRI service was compliant with ADA.
Floyd McClain Case:




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