Legal Considerations Involving Injured Non-English Speaking Employees, Workers Comp and Translators

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In February of 2013, Rafael Martinez was a landscaping professional for Kansas City Allied Landscaping Services. Martinez suffered an on the job injury when his hand was deeply cut.  The severity of the injury required seven days of hospitalization and resulted in the amputation of his middle two fingers.  Martinez was able to return to work three months later, when his hand had healed and he had completed physical therapy.

Proposed Settlement Offer

Prior to returning to work, Martinez had a series of negotiation meetings with his employer regarding compensatory damages.  During the first meeting, Kansas City Allied Landscaping hired a Spanish interpreter to assist in the communication between the two parties because Martinez could not read or speak English.

Soon after the first negotiation meeting, Martinez was given a copy of the proposed settlement offer to review prior to the second meeting.  At the conclusion of the second meeting, the parties still hadn’t come to an agreement.

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Workers’ Comp Interpreters

During the third meeting, the company provided Martinez with another Spanish interpreter who provided a verbal Spanish to English translation of the proposed settlement and strived to ensure that Martinez understood all of the terms and conditions of the agreement.  At the conclusion of the meeting in June of 2013, Martinez signed the agreement.  The agreement stated that Kansas City Allied Landscaping would pay Martinez $6,000 in monthly installments of $200.  The company also agreed to pay for medical expenses and reasonable and necessary future medical expenses.  In exchange for signing and accepting the settlement offer, Martinez agreed to release Kansas City Allied Landscaping from negligence and gross negligence.

Signed Under Duress?

Soon after the settlement was reached, Kansas City Allied Landscaping terminated Martinez’s employment.  Shortly thereafter, Martinez sued Kansas City Allied Landscaping, alleging that the company was liable for his injuries.  Kansas City Allied Landscaping claimed that Martinez had already signed an agreement that released the company from liability.  However, Martinez claimed that the agreement was signed under duress.  Martinez claimed that the company would not let him comeback to work or use his earned vacation time until an agreement was signed. The company’s interpreter who provided the verbal Spanish translation services testified that the employer never indicated that Martinez’s future employment was dependent on him signing the agreement. Can the release from negligence that Martinez signed be voidable because of duress?

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