Tuesday, July 25, 2017
Hospital Must Pay Though Patient Wasn’t Harmed—C.A.
By a MetNews Staff Writer
A hospital that failed to provide a sign language interpreter to a deaf patient will have to pay $4,000 in statutory damages and $147,000 in attorney fees, plus costs, notwithstanding a jury’s finding that the plaintiff suffered no harm, the Court of Appeal for this district held yesterday.
On a special verdict form, the jury was asked whether defendant Alta Los Angeles Hospitals, Inc. denied “full and equal services” to plaintiff Christopher Oliver, and it answered “Yes.” The jury was asked whether Alta’s conduct was “a substantial factor in causing harm to Christopher Oliver” and it responded, “No,”
Alta argued that in light of the finding of no harm, Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Ralph Dau (since deceased) erred in awarding statutory damages and attorney fees, under Civil Code §51 et seq., the Unruh Civil Rights Act.
Affirmance came in an opinion by Acting Presiding Justice Sandy Kriegler of Div. Five. The opinion was not certified for publication.
The jurist said the Unruh Act authorizes three forms of relief: actual damages, statutory damages, and attorney fees.
“Nothing in the statutory language supports Alta’s argument that by choosing to pursue an award for actual damages, Oliver forfeited his right to seek an award of statutory damages from the court,” he said.
Kriegler went on to declare:
“From a public policy perspective, it is consistent with the legislative goal of deterring discriminatory conduct to permit plaintiffs to obtain statutory damages even if a jury finds no actual damages. Had the jury here awarded some minimal amount of actual damages, such as $100, and then awarded either $0 or $300 as the statutory damage amount, there would be no question that the court would have authority to increase the statutory damage award to $4,000, consistent with the statutory language. We see nothing in the statute or case law that precluded the trial court from awarding the minimum penalty amount of $4,000 after the jury found that Alta violated section 51 by denying Oliver full and equal services.”
He added that “plaintiffs who prove a violation of section 51 are entitled to a mandatory award of attorney fees.”
The case is Oliver v. Alta Los Angeles Hospitals, B271206.
The attorneys on the appeal were Marshall A. Caskey, Daniel M. Holzman, and N. Cory Barari of Caskey & Holzman for Oliver and John A. Van Hook of McGuireWoods and George E. Nowotny and Judith M. Tishkoff of Lewis Brisbois Bisgaard & Smith for the hospital.
Copyright 2017, Metropolitan News Company