August 23, 2019

A hospital may held liable for violations of the Rehabilitation Act if its staff members are deemed to be acting as "officials" or "policymakers" of the hospital


This decision addresses whether and when hospital staff members may be considered to be acting as "officials" or "policymakers" of the hospital at which they are employed so that their conduct may be attributed to the hospital and thereby establish a Plaintiff’s right to damages on the ground that the defendant hospital was "deliberately indifferent" to a violation of the federal Rehabilitation Act [RA], 87 Stat. 355.*

Here, said the Second Circuit Court of Appeals, the record contains evidence that the hospital staff involved had knowledge of the deprivation of a patient’s right "to an interpreter, had the power to cure that violation, and failed to cure it."

Accordingly, the court ruled that the federal district court's summary judgment in favor of the defendant hospital was inappropriate.

This, said the court, did not mean that a hospital could absolve itself of liability for damages by failing to empower staff members who have contact with patients to cure potential violations of the RA, such as by failing to empower front line staff to procure, as was necessary in this instance, an interpreter for the hearing impaired. 

Indeed, opined the Circuit Court of Appeals, a hospital might be liable precisely because its policymakers failed to put in place a policy that would reasonably enable a patient to obtain the relief guaranteed by the  RA by complaining to the staff with whom the patient has contact. Were such the case, it could be argued that the “policymaker acted with at least deliberate indifference to the strong likelihood that a violation of federally protected rights will result" from its failing adopt a policy providing for a patient obtaining RA rights to which they were entitled.   

Such an argument, observed the Circuit Court, is especially strong in cases where a regulation expressly addresses a particular need, effectively putting hospital policymakers on notice that they must ensure the hospital’s policies are reasonably capable of meeting that need, specifically citing 45 C.F.R. §84.52(d)(1). 

* 45 C.F.R. §84.52(d)(1) mandates that hospitals subject to its provisions “shall provide appropriate auxiliary aids to persons with impaired sensory, manual, or speaking skills.”

The decision is posted on the Internet at:

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