Telephone Interpreter Sued for Life-and-Death Address Error

Telephone Interpreter Sued for Life-and-Death Address Error

by Translation Guy on April 15, 2014
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Just a reminder of the importance of accuracy to the translator’s trade.  Translator error can kill. Even a “one” mistranslated as a “zero” spells “doom” if the ambulance goes to the wrong address. That’s according to a $3 million wrongful death lawsuit against a Spanish 9-1-1 telephone interpreter under contract to the City of Portland.  It took an ambulance crew 26 minutes to find Elidiana Valcez-Lemus unconscious from cardiac arrest, after she stopped breathing for 14 minutes.

In “Spanish interpreter botched 9-1-1 translation, sent ambulance to wrong address, $3 million suit claims,” Aimee Green of the Oregonian cites suit claims:

The father of the woman’s children, Misael Reyna, dialed 9-1-1 at 4:43 a.m. on April 12, 2011, to report, in Spanish, that “My wife says she cannot breath.”

The interpreter relayed to the 9-1-1 call taker: “My wife is short of breath.”

When asked for an address, Reyna replied in Spanish: “2601 111th Avenue.”

The interpreter relayed to the dispatcher: “2600 101st Avenue.”

After the call taker asked for clarification about which part of town he was in — Southeast, Northwest, etc. — an ambulance was dispatched.

Seven minutes later, at 4:50 a.m., medics arrived at the wrong address.

At 4:55 a.m., Valdez-Lemus stopped breathing.

Seconds later, medics asked to confirm the address, because they hadn’t been able to find anyone who needed help.

At 4:58 a.m., medics learned the correct address.

At 5:09 a.m., medics arrived at the correct address.

Green interviewed Diego Conde, the Portland attorney who is representing the dead woman’s estate, who said the death was completely preventable.

Conde said the couple’s three young children lay asleep as Reyna saw Valdez-Lemus deteriorate in stages. She had trouble breathing, then started foaming and bleeding from her mouth and nose. She began turned blue. And she fell unconscious. Then the 9-1-1 call taker instructed Reyna on how to do mouth-to-mouth and give chest compressions.

“At one point, (the call taker tells) him they’re outside their door, ‘Go get them,’” said Conde, who has listened to the 9-1-1 recording several times. “He opens the door and sprints out there, and there’s no one there.”

“He runs back to the phone and says ‘There’s no one out there,’” Conde said. “He gives them the address again, and then they realize they have the wrong address.”

Conde believes his suit points out a systemic problem with Portland’s 9-1-1 system, which relies on a translation service for many thousands of Spanish speakers.

“The address is the most important part of any 911 call,” Conde said.

“We all have a right to cry for help if our loved ones are in need,” Conde continued. “We need to have effective, efficient interpreters or Spanish-speaking operators. We cannot do without.”

Language Line Translation Solutions, Lingo Systems, Language Line Service, AT&T Corp. are named in the suit, but the name of the company that provided the Spanish-language interpreter is unknown.

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