Translation Issues in Elder Abuse Cases

Did you know that Southern California is home to the largest Latino and Asian populations in the country? According to a recent article in the Los Angeles Times, elderly persons within these populations may not be getting a fair deal in elder abuse cases. When claims go to court, it is important for a judge or a jury to understand a plaintiff’s injuries and to grasp the extent of the nursing home abuse or neglect that took place. However, when your first language is not English, it is sometimes extremely difficult to mIMG_1930ake your way through the justice system.

Language Barriers to Legal Forms, Filings, and Testimonies

In California alone, the Los Angeles Times estimates that there are about seven million “limited-English proficient speakers,” and for those people, the civil court system is “practically impenetrable.” What is the problem?

Imagine the following scenario. Your elderly mother sustained injuries due to nursing home neglect in a San Diego facility. Both you and your mother are native Spanish speakers. You are only proficient in English, and your mother barely speaks English at all. When it comes time to file a lawsuit, you attempt to examine the paperwork you will need to file in order to initiate your claim.

Given that your English-language skills are not to the level of native fluency, you have difficulty understanding the legal terms used. Keep in mind—legal language is often quite complex and difficult for even a native English speaker to comprehend. As a result of your confusion due to language barriers, when it comes to filing a lawsuit, your mother’s claim is not filed on time. Indeed, the language in the statute of limitations was difficult to parse, and you did not contact a lawyer in time.

Even if you make it to the courtroom, you are still going to face serious language difficulties. To be sure, “people in civil court do not have the constitutional right to an interpreter.” As such, your elderly mother’s testimony about the injuries she sustained may not be clear to the judge or the jury. Is this a fair way to handle cases?

Interpreter Requirements and the Elderly Population

Last year, the Department of Justice took a close look at the number of residents in Los Angeles County who could not speak English fluently and were in need of a courtroom translator. The Department ultimately concluded that court proceedings must make available free language services, and that nearly $8 million in the California budget—allocated for interpreter services— remained unspent.

Do residents of San Diego County need these services as much as residents of Los Angeles County? According to data reported by the U.S. Census Bureau, more than twelve percent of the San Diego County population is aged 65 and older. Of the total population, about one-third are Hispanic or Latino. This number is significant because “more than 80 percent of litigants who have difficulty with English are Latino.” While all Hispanic or Latino residents of San Diego County certainly do not fall within this category, it is important to keep in mind that many Californians’ native fluency is in another language, and they may only be proficient in spoken and written English.

If your elderly loved one sustained injuries from nursing home abuse or neglect, you should not need to worry about problems of translation and language comprehension. It is extremely important to have an advocate on your side, and one of our experienced San Diego elder abuse lawyers can speak with you today.

Photo Credit: ArielleJay via morgueFile

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California Long-Term Care Ombudsman Program

Elder Care Risks and Quality of Life

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