Language barriers and accidents: What non-English speakers need to know

Accidents are scary and confusing. Your fear and confusion can be compounded, however, when you’re in dire need of medical treatment for your injuries and your English is limited.

Approximately 20% of people in the United States don’t speak English. Many others speak English as a second language. The stress of an accident and the pain of their injuries may make it harder for them to communicate effectively in a language other than their native tongue. If you or your loved ones fit into this category, here are some tips that you should keep in mind if you’re injured in a car crash:

  • You cannot rely on the hospital to have a translator. If you’re lucky, someone will be on hand who can translate for you and the doctor — or your doctor will speak your language. In most cases, however, you won’t have a ready translator available.
  • If possible, take someone to the hospital with you who is both fluent and capable of understanding medical terms. Taking someone you trust — preferably an adult — can facilitate communication between you and the doctor and nurses.
  • You should follow up as soon as possible with your regular physician or one with whom you can communicate. Studies have indicated that language barriers can contribute to medical mistakes and even turn fatal. Don’t be afraid to seek a second opinion about your injuries.
  • Don’t try to talk to anyone from an insurance company about the accident or your injuries. If your command of English is fairly weak, you could say something that damages your case or agree to something you don’t understand.

If you’ve been in a serious accident that has left you injured and you don’t speak much English, it may be wiser to have an attorney represent you in dealing with insurance companies. Find out more about your legal rights.