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Litigation and Hearing Impaired or deaf Clients

Posted in Court of Common Pleas, Trial Practice

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            Representing hearing impaired or deaf clients presents challenges like no other challenges that attorneys face in representing their clients in litigation.

            Communicating with a hearing impaired or deaf client can be done a number of ways. However, it must involve advanced planning.  You can communicate in writing or via sign language.  Written communication might not be the best way to communicate with your client since it might be their second language, sign being their first. If written communication is their second language then the client might not effectively communicate their needs via written communication.         

            Sign interpreters present their own issues when you are communicating with the client.  First, you need to decide if there is a family member who can perform sign interpretation or whether you need to retain a third party. If you utilize a family member then you want to make sure that the family member is also the client. Otherwise, there might be issues regarding preserving the attorney client privilege.  As to a third party, you want to retain them as a consultant or client representative, again to preserve the attorney client privilege.

            At a deposition, there will need to be multiple interpreters.  First there should be the table interpreter who you retain as your consultant. The table interpreter serves 2 functions. First they allow you to communicate with your client during any break. Second and more important they listen to the interpretation of the questions and answers and advise you if you should object to the interpretation.  Third, there should be multiple interpreters who are interpreting the questions and answers. Multiple interpreters are required since they get tired from having to concentrate and from the signing. They also can confer if there is a lengthy answer to make sure that they captured the entire answer.

            Another issue at depositions and then in Court is the use of simultaneous versus consecutive interpreting.  Simultaneous interpreting is typically used in a conversational setting and not in a legal setting. That is when the interpreter is signing while the question is being asked and while the answer is being given. While that is acceptable in a conversational setting it is not acceptable in a legal setting.  In order to effectively interpret a question or an answer the interpreter must hear the entire question or answer to obtain the tense and the context. Otherwise, the interpretation will be incorrect.

            As to Court, you have the same issues as set forth above. However, there are additional issues which involve the jury.  You need to make sure that your client is favorably received by the jury and that you effectively communicate their client’s testimony to the jury. Typically they are issues in any case, however, they are more challenging with a hearing or deaf client.  Now the jury is being distracted by the person signing. Additionally, the interpreter now plays an even more important role. You need them to personalize your client. A bland interpretation can send one message as compared to an interpreter who understands the case and is expressive at the appropriate times.