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Legal Translation and Communicating Occupational Hazards to Foreign Language Speakers

Legal document translation, deposition translators, and legal interpreting play an important role in the cases dealing with employees who speak a foreign language and the various situations that arise in a multi-linguistic workplace.

In one case, Hector Linares, et al. v. Does 1 through 100, et al. (Super. Ct. L.A. County, 2012, No. BC486916), the plaintiff, who had a limited ability to read and understand English, filed a personal injury lawsuit after suffering a lung injury called obliterative bronchiolitis as a result of occupational exposure to food flavoring chemicals during his employment at a food flavoring manufacturing plant in California. He named several manufacturers and distributors associated with the chemicals.

One of the defendants filed a motion for summary judgment, arguing that the plaintiff’s claims were barred by California’s two-year statute of limitations for personal injury claims. In its motion for summary judgment, the defendant presented evidence showing that the plaintiff had been repeatedly told of the potential causal link between his injury and occupational exposures to the food flavoring chemicals five years before he filed the lawsuit. The plaintiff opposed the motion for summary judgment on several grounds, arguing that the plaintiff’s limited ability to read and speak English prevented him from actually becoming aware of his lung injury and its possible cause before his symptoms became more persistent. The trial court denied the defendant’s motion for summary judgment on the grounds that there existed triable issues of fact as to whether the plaintiff, due to his limited English-speaking ability, actually understood what his doctors told him about his lung injury.

The defendant then filed a writ with the California Court of Appeal and asked the court to overturn the trial court’s denial of the defendant’s motion for summary judgment. The Court of Appeal found that the defendant had satisfied its burden to demonstrate that the plaintiff was aware of, or should have reasonably been aware of, the possible link between his lung injury and his occupational exposures to various chemicals. The court further held that the plaintiff had failed to produce any evidence that the plaintiff did not, or could not, understand otherwise.

After the Court of Appeal held that summary judgment should be granted in favor of the defendant, the plaintiff filed a petition for review with the California Supreme Court. The plaintiff presented the Court of Appeal’s decision as an important question of law regarding what inferences can be drawn from information communicated in a foreign language. The defendant argued that the Court of Appeal’s decision was not based on assumptions involving what information was communicated to the plaintiff, but rather, the fact that the only reasonable inference that could be drawn from the plaintiff’s medical records was that he was aware of, (or at least should have been aware of), the link between his lung injury and his exposure to certain chemicals in the workplace. The defendant also argued that the plaintiff had failed to present evidence demonstrating that the plaintiff either did not, or could not, have reasonably understood this information.

The California Supreme Court denied the petition to review the appellate court’s decision to grant summary judgment in favor of the defendant based on the expiration of the statute of limitations.

Disclaimer: While every effort has been made to ensure the accuracy of this publication, it is not intended to provide legal advice as individual situations will differ and should be discussed with an expert and/or lawyer.For specific technical or legal advice on the information provided and related topics, please contact the author.

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