Use Qualified Medical Interpreters
When Caring for Patients with
Limited English Proficiency

Federal Court Discredits Testimony of
Treating Physicians Who Failed to Vet
Medical Interpreters’ Credentials

Professional Medical Interpreting Services for IMEs, Hospitals, Doctors’ Offices

We’ve blogged in the past about the importance of using unbiased certified translators and interpreters, particularly with legal matters and disputes. In the case discussed below, Zhao v. United States of America, a federal court in New York recently looked unfavorably upon the plaintiff’s treating physicians’ failure to investigate the qualifications and impartiality of the medical interpreters the physicians used while treating the LEP plaintiff from China.

The underlying incident on which this suit is based took place in 2004 when the plaintiff was mistaken by a U.S. Customs and Border Patrol Officer at Niagara Falls for a drug smuggler. The plaintiff, who had been visiting from China, allegedly suffered series injuries and was treated at a hospital following a physical altercation with the police officer. The following day, the plaintiff returned to New York City and retained an attorney the same day. The plaintiff’s attorney sent her to several physicians for evaluations.

The plaintiff subsequently filed a lawsuit against the United States of America under the Federal Tort Claim Act. The matter proceed with discovery and was ultimately reassigned to another judge some years later. The new judge conducted a bench trial in which 18 witnesses testified and hundreds of exhibits were admitted. The court ultimately ruled that while the officer did, in fact, use excessive force, the officer’s assault of the plaintiff was not as serious as she alleged and her claimed injuries were not at all supported by the evidence. The following summary discusses the court’s rulings and ultimate conclusions of law regarding the plaintiff’s claims:

Mandarin Interpreter Services to Treat Patient from China

The court first found that the plaintiff was not at all credible. First, the court discussed the fact that although the plaintiff testified that she only knew a few words of English at the time of her encounter with the defendant officer, at trial she demonstrated an ability to speak English that was far beyond what she had represented to the court. At trial, the plaintiff used a Mandarin interpreter while testifying on her own behalf. The court noted that the plaintiff had actually corrected the interpreter on several occasions and even understood and responded to her attorney’s objections at trial in English.

The plaintiff also demonstrated an ability to read and understand documents in English at trial. The court also found that the plaintiff had not been straightforward with her health care providers who treated her after the alleged attack and that her psychiatrist even discussed her history in Mandarin; thus the plaintiff had no excuse for her inaccurate statements. The court also noted that the plaintiff had made inaccurate statements with regard to her family, work and financial history and often appeared to be hiding information while testifying.
Significantly, the court also looked unfavorably upon several of the doctors who testified on plaintiff’s behalf at trial. One of the doctors whom the court did not find credible testified as to the neuropsychological testing he performed on plaintiff. Specifically, the court found that the doctor was not credible in that he was evasive and refused to answer questions.

The court further stated that it was “troubled” by the doctor’s use of translators to communicate with the plaintiff in Mandarin whose qualifications and credentials were unknown. Ironically, the doctor testified that he was capable of evaluating one of the Mandarin translator’s qualifications, even though the doctor could not speak Mandarin. Rather than using certified medical interpreters, the doctor used individuals who were associated with the law firm representing the plaintiff to act as interpreters. The court held that the doctor’s failure to take steps to ensure that the translations were conducted accurately “calls into question the validity of all the tests he conducted on [the plaintiff.]”

Finally, the court discussed the doctor’s failure to assess the plaintiff using the Mandarin version of the Wechsler Adult Intelligence Scale (WAIS), despite the fact that this test would have been more applicable to someone born and raised in China. In fact, the doctor testified that none of the tests he used to evaluate the plaintiff had been deemed appropriate by native speakers of Mandarin.

The court likewise discredited another one of plaintiff’s doctors who also used a Mandarin Chinese interpreter associated with the law firm representing the plaintiff. The court held that the doctor’s “failure to ensure that the translator was qualified and unbiased call[ed] into question the reliability of his assessment of [the plaintiff], particularly when it was based on her subjective complaints.”

Furthermore, the court held that the plaintiff did not prove that her claimed disability lasted as long as she said it did. Specifically, the court noted that even though the plaintiff had been hospitalized in China for mental health issues, none of the physicians from China appeared at trial to testify that her hospitalization was due to the injuries she sustained from her encounter with the officer.

Failure to Use Qualified Interpreters and Translators to Treat Mandarin-Speaking Plaintiff

Despite the many problems with the plaintiff’s case, the court ultimately found in her favor with regard to her claims under the Federal Tort Claims Act. Specifically, the court held that the United States had failed to meet its burden in establishing that the defendant officer had probable cause to arrest the plaintiff under suspicion for being a drug smuggler and determined that the plaintiff was entitled to receive over $461,000 in compensation for assault and battery and for false arrest. The court held that the defendant officer was not credible, and that there was no evidence to support a reasonable believe that the plaintiff was engaged in drug smuggling. Still, the plaintiff’s recovery was no doubt limited by the court’s concerns about the plaintiff’s candor and her doctors’ failure to use qualified interpreters and translators.

The case is Zhao v. United States of America, Case No. 1:06 CV-00106 EAW, decided on August 4, 2017 by Judge Wolford of the U.S. District Court for the Western District of New York.

Contact All Language Alliance, Inc. to retain qualified medical interpreters in Mandarin, Spanish, Russian, Arabic, Somali, Haitian Creole, Korean, Cantonese, Polish, Nepali, Hmong and other rare and common languages for your IME, hospital, doctor’s office to evaluate or treat LEP patients.

This legal translation blog article should not be construed as legal advice. You should always consult an attorney regarding your specific legal needs.

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