Forced to Relay Fatal Diagnosis to Her Mother

A case in a Louisiana federal court addressed an unusual question: what if circumstances at a hospital require that you, rather than hospital personnel, be the one to tell your mother she has only two weeks to live? Do you have a claim under federal disability law?

It happened when Katrina Labouliere’s mother was diagnosed with stage 4 liver cancer and given only two weeks to live. Katrina says that because her mother was deaf, she had asked the hospital for an interpreter, but none was provided. She says that she asked the nurses to use the Video Remote Device, but they didn’t know how to operate it.

The upshot was that Katrina, proficient in sign language, was the one who delivered the bad news to her mother. Katrina sued the hospital and others on behalf of her mother’s estate, alleging denial of accommodation for her disability as required by the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 and the Affordable Care Act, as well as a state statute.

But she didn’t stop with claims on the estate’s behalf. She also sued on her own behalf, alleging that the failure to accommodate her mother’s disability resulted in harm to her—Katrina.

She alleged that she can’t sleep; has nightmares; suffers from depression, anxiety, and panic attacks; and avoids jobs as a sign language interpreter.

The court dismissed the estate’s state law claim as premature, but ruled in favor of the estate on the federal statutes, denying the motion to dismiss. Katrina’s personal claims didn’t fare as well. The court acknowledged the validity of the concept of associational standing—standing on the part of an individual deprived of a benefit because of association with a disabled person. But the court ruled that the defendants were not required to provide any benefit to Katrina, so they couldn’t be liable for denying a benefit. Her personal claims were dismissed.


The case is Labouliere v. Our Lady of the Lake Foundation, No. 16-00785-JJB-EWD (M.D. La. Sept. 29, 2017).

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