Deaf Knoxville man sues Parkwest, Covenant Health for refusing to provide an interpreter

Court documents show the man was screaming in pain and the hospital refused to provide an interpreter.
Court documents show the man was screaming in pain and the hospital refused to provide an interpreter.
Published: Jan. 22, 2022 at 5:21 PM EST
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KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WVLT) - A federal judge ruled in favor of a Knoxville man to continue his lawsuit against Parkwest Medical Center and Covenant Health on Tuesday, according to court documents obtained by WVLT News.

Scott Tomei is profoundly deaf and communicates by American Sign Language (ASL).

On Oct. 24, 2017, Tomei went to Parkwest Hospital after falling a few days earlier and injuring his right leg and foot.

“Upon his arrival at the hospital, Plaintiff requested a live ASL interpreter,” the document states. “Hospital staff refused Plaintiff’s request.”

Tomei was shown an x-ray of his knee and then sent home with an antibiotic and ibuprofen, but the pain increased. Two days later, he went to the Lenoir City Emergency Room where he was administered multiple medical exams. Doctors there decided to transfer him to Parkwest to see a vascular surgeon for what they thought were blood clots and a Lenoir City nurse called ahead to request an interpreter for him, according to the documents.

Parkwest staff provided Tomei with a Video Remote Interpreting (VRI) device,, but the machine wasn’t functioning because the hospital’s network firewalls interrupted the video feed along with other issues. Besides the VRI machine, no other interpreter services were provided by the hospital, according to the documents.

Tomei had surgery at Parkwest to fix the blood clots by inserting a medical device in his leg. During the surgery, Tomei’s daughter served as his interpreter. On Oct. 28, The device was removed from his leg but he still felt burning and pain, according to the documents.

At this time, Plaintiff was heavily sedated and very uncomfortable. He was also unable to communicate with medical staff about his condition and the pain he was experiencing. As a result, Plaintiff was extremely distressed. On October 29, 2017, the pain in Plaintiff’s leg became worse. Plaintiff was screaming in excruciating pain. Nonetheless, Defendants refused to provide an ASL interpreter to Plaintiff. On October 30, 2017, Dr. Pollock visited Plaintiff and asked Plaintiff if he would like to go home. Plaintiff tried his best to inform Dr. Pollock that he was in immense pain, through gestures. Plaintiff and Dr. Pollock attempted to discuss his condition and the degree of his pain. However, without the aid of an interpreter, effective communication was not possible. As a result, Dr. Pollock sent Plaintiff home. No interpreter was provided for Plaintiff at discharge and he was sent home heavily sedated and with a blue foot.

Court Documents

After being sent home, a nurse and physical therapist visited to help him recover but realized his foot wasn’t well enough to continue. Tomei called his family doctor, who suspected he had compartment syndrome and was sent to the University of Tennessee Medical Center.

While at UTMC, staff provided Tomei with 24/7 in-person interpreters. He had another surgery to remove the blood clots from his foot but there was too much damage, and he had to undergo a partial amputation.

Surgeons amputated 30% of his right leg from the knee down. An interpreter communicated to him that if he had gone to UTMC earlier, they would have been able to save his foot, according to the documents.

More than 15 months after Tomei was first denied an interpreter, he sued Parkwest Medical Center and Covenant Health. Representatives for the health system claimed that the allotted time to file a lawsuit had already passed. The Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals disagreed.

“Parkwest’s main source for its argument to the contrary - a footnote from an out-of-circuit district court opinion- is unconvincing,” the opinion read. “It’s Parkwest that has it wrong in grouping that statue of limitations in with those rights and remedies.”

WVLT News reached out to Parkwest staff for a comment but has not yet heard back.

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