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Tuesday, June 25, 2024 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

Deaf Residents Lose ADA|Claim Over Mercury Spill

(CN) - The 8th Circuit rejected the claims of four deaf people who said Dakota County wrongfully denied them sign-language interpreters after a mercury spill in Rosemount, Minn.

Forty-nine people were exposed to mercury after teenage boys stole two jars of the toxic substance from an abandoned building and dumped the contents onto a playground near the Rosemount Woods mobile home park.

A disaster response unit began decontaminating the people who had been exposed to mercury, including Kevin Loye, Gina Gist, Vikki Marshall and David Stiles, who are deaf.

They sued Dakota County two years later, claiming the county's failure to provide American Sign Language (ASL) interpreters during the decontamination process violated the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Minnesota Human Rights Act.

The exposed residents had been taken to a tent, where members of a disaster response team scrubbed them with soap and water. The plaintiffs claimed they were afraid and confused because there was no interpreter to explain the process.

But a federal judge dismissed the lawsuit, saying the plaintiffs had received effective communication -- and thus meaningful access -- to the programs and services offered after the spill.

The federal appeals court in St. Louis agreed that the county had properly communicated with the deaf residents during and after the emergency.

"While we have little doubt that plaintiffs had need of interpreters when the emergency decontamination services began, they failed to prove that the county was responsible for interpreters not being present," Judge James Loken wrote for the three-judge panel.

The court also rejected the plaintiffs' claim that the county should have provided an interpreter at all public meetings held in the aftermath of the spill.

Loken said the information discussed at the meetings "was not so time-sensitive that the delay denied plaintiffs effective communication and meaningful access to the services being provided."

The deaf residents also argued that an interpreter was available at only a portion of individual meetings with nurse Gerilee Greeley with the Department of Public Health.

"There is no evidence that plaintiffs failed to obtain any service because Nurse Greeley's advice or assistance was not understood, and no evidence Nurse Greeley ignored a specific request for more effective communication or refused a specific request for an ASL interpreter," Loken concluded.

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