David Lauman

Case study: from slip and fall to possible prison sentence

In Penny wise, pound foolish: the cost of not using professional interpreters/translators on September 3, 2012 at 10:16 PM

By David L. Lauman, M.A. Translation and Interpretation

20/20 Translations

A Spanish-speaking individual sued a company following a slip and fall incident. Attempts were made to mediate the case. However, the plaintiff’s attorney did not bother to get a professional court-certified interpreter for the mediation. Rather, the attorney had a “bilingual” member of her client’s family to serve as an interpreter at the mediation. Unfortunately, the family member was not fully fluent in Spanish, much less did she know how to interpret or translate, particularly in a legal setting.

The plaintiff claimed that she did not understand the proposed settlement terms discussed at the mediation, however, she had signed the related paperwork. Later on, she decided to back out of the settlement and wanted to take the matter to trial. Defense counsel filed a motion to enforce the settlement, and subsequently, her attorney stopped representing her.

The plaintiff appeared unrepresented at two separate hearings on the motion to enforce the settlement. However, as a courtesy to the court, defense counsel hired a colleague and me to interpret between the court, attorneys, and Spanish-speaking plaintiff*. When testifying, she stated that she did not understand her family member’s “translation”, and even declared that the latter did not speak good Spanish. To make matters worse, when asked if she remembered the content of the paperwork she had signed, she stated that she did not. So although her intention may not have been to perjure on the witness stand, in practice that is what she did, risking possible perjury charges.

Had there been a professional interpreter/translator at the mediation, everything that was discussed could have been clearly conveyed to the plaintiff, and a complete written translation of the settlement terms could have been provided. Under those circumstances, it is much more likely that this matter could have settled at that time. The defendant could have avoided the hassle of filing the motion and attending the hearings, along with significant expense. The plaintiff would not have risked perjury charges and a possible prison sentence.

Considering the above, hiring a professional, court-certified interpreter when non-English litigants are involved can be of significant help in resolving a case.

*This occurred before the 2011 Department of Justice ruling which mandated state-paid court interpreters for all civil hearings in Colorado courts.

© David L Lauman, 2012.  All rights reserved

Need a Spanish interpreter/translator?  Send David an e-mail.  For more information about his practice, please visit www.2020translations.com.

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