Deponent and Interpreter Should Understand Each Other Well
The importance of using court certified interpreters for video depositions via Zoom and for in-person depositions to ensure a reliable and accurate deposition translation and interpretation cannot be emphasized enough. Whenever a court interpreter is used by any party it must be ensured that both the deposition interpreter and the LEP (Limited English Proficient) individual understand each other clearly so that there are not any issues in the translation and interpretation. Attorneys must advise their clients that if they have any problems or issues understanding the deposition interpreter, they should bring it up to their lawyer’s attention right away. This would protect the interests of the non-English-speaking party that is using the interpreter. The case of Yolanda De Los Santos v. Ft Washington Reformed Church, Fort Washington Collegiate Church from the Supreme Court of the State of New York teaches us this lesson.
The Case of the Misunderstood Spanish Deposition Interpreter
This case stems from an accident; namely a slip and fall sustained by the plaintiff outside a church. The Spanish-speaking plaintiff alleged negligence on the part of the defendant, a church, namely that the church failed to clean up the snow and ice on its premises. The plaintiff appeared for a deposition where she testified through a Spanish deposition interpreter. At her deposition she stated that it was snowing at the time of her slip and fall. It is worth noting that generally such cases fall under the ambit of insurance defense cases, because generally the insurance company of the defendant would provide counsel for the defendant and any settlement would typically come from the insurance policy of the defendant.
At some point after the deposition, the defendant church moved to have the case dismissed, citing the “storm in progress” rule, under which a property owner does not have a duty to clear the hazardous condition caused by the storm, while the storm is still ongoing. Essentially, the defendant’s argument was that since there was an ongoing storm it did not have a duty to remove the snow and hence it is not responsible for the slip and fall sustained by the plaintiff. The basis of defendant’s motion to dismiss was that the Spanish-speaking plaintiff had testified at her deposition, through a Spanish deposition interpreter, that it was snowing at the time. The plaintiff then tried to argue that the aforementioned testimony was a mistake resulting from mistranslations at the deposition.
However, the Court was not satisfied with the Spanish-speaking plaintiff’s argument regarding the mistranslation issue as the Court found this to be a feigned or an insincere claim. The Court also took note of the fact that the plaintiff could have amended her deposition testimony, even after the deposition, but failed to do so. Specifically, the plaintiff had the opportunity to make any amendments to her deposition testimony but failed to avail it. To counter the plaintiff’s allegations regarding the mistranslation the defendant’s counsel provided an affidavit from the Spanish interpreter herself noting that she had adequately translated the Spanish deponent’s testimony. Despite this however, the plaintiff caught a lucky break as defendant’s motion was denied, albeit on other grounds.
A Simple Deposition Mistranslation Can Make a Difference in Your Case
So what is the lesson here for us? As stated above a simple mistranslation can make a difference in your case, it can be the difference between winning and losing. The most important aspect of this case is that if your client needs a deposition interpreter, please make sure that your client and the interpreter do not have any issues understanding each other, as happened in this case, according to the Spanish-speaking plaintiff. There is often quite a bit of ambiguity in the English words chosen by the deposition counsel during a given deposition. In addition, oftentimes there are multiple dialects of the same language or simply different accent types which make it difficult for the deposition interpreter and client to understand each other. When possible, try to use an interpreter who speaks the same dialect as your client and has the same accent as well. Also, after the deposition the attorney should meet with the non-English speaking client and a court interpreter to review the deposition transcript. This will ensure that the interpreted deposition testimony can be relied upon and that the appropriate corrections can be made to the deposition transcript, if needed. Another aspect of translation in the legal sector is that the translator must also be able to translate the specific terms of art unique to the legal context, e.g. in a medical malpractice case the interpreter must be able to adequately translate the medical terms of art.
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