Marshall L. Schwartz and Paul E. Peel recently obtained a defense verdict in favor of two family physicians and their medical group in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania.  The plaintiff, who is deaf, alleged that the defendants violated the federal Rehabilitation Act, 29 U.S.C.§ 794, et. seq., while she was their patient by failing to provide reasonable accommodations for her disability.  Specifically, the plaintiff claimed that she requested a sign language interpreter for each of her appointments but was not provided one.  As a result, plaintiff maintained that she was unable to effectively communicate her problems and concerns to the defendants.  She contended that she felt humiliated and disrespected by the way the defendants treated her while she was their patient.  The plaintiff also alleged that the defendants ended their physician-patient relationship with her solely because of her disability.

Defendants argued that the plaintiff had advised them that she did not need an interpreter at her appointments because she was able to communicate through reading lips and passing written notes.  The defendants explained that, if there was any potential misunderstanding or if they needed to clarify something for the plaintiff, then they would write notes for her to read.  The defendants asserted that, during the entire time that she was their patient, the plaintiff never asked for an interpreter or indicated that she could not understand the defendants and that the defendants never had any difficulty communicating with her.  Defendants also established that their office policy required that an interpreter be provided if a patient requested one. Finally, the defendants testified that they ended their physician-patient relationship with the plaintiff, not because she was deaf, but rather, because she compromised the relationship by verbally abusing a member of their staff.

After deliberating for less than an hour, the jury returned a unanimous verdict in the defendants’ favor, finding that the defendants did not violate the Rehabilitation Act.