Reid L. Steinfeld on Interpreter Fees in California Workers' Compensation Cases

Reid L. Steinfeld on Interpreter Fees in California Workers' Compensation Cases

This expert commentary written by Reid L. Steinfeld discusses California statutes, regulations, and case law describing specific situations in which an interpreter may accompany an applicant and be paid, generally by the defendant's claims administrator. This commentary also discusses interpreters' qualifications, amount of fees, and the consequences of delays in paying fees. 
 
 Interpreter's fees that are incurred for the "purpose of proving or disproving a contested claim" under Cal. Lab. Code § 4620(a) are included in that statute's definition of medical legal expenses, but only if the medical report associated with the interpreter's services "is capable of proving or disproving a disputed medical fact, the determination of which is essential to an adjudication of the employee's claim for benefits."
 
Medical-legal expenses include interpreter fees for services at medical examinations under Cal. Lab. Code § 4660(b)(1). Defendants must reimburse the applicant for medical legal expenses that were "reasonably, actually, and necessarily incurred."
 
Applicants attending hearings or conferences of the WCAB, including the Rehabilitation Unit, may request language assistance by requesting an interpreter, if the applicant has difficulty communicating in English. Qualified interpreters may interpret during WCAB hearings, depositions, and other settings determined by the WCAB or Administrative Director, Division of Workers' Compensation, State of California. Other settings are described as those that are "reasonably necessary to ascertain the validity or extent of injury to an employee who cannot communicate in English."
 
Interpreter fees to attend hearings, depositions, and other settings that are "reasonably, actually, and necessarily incurred" are allowed as costs under Cal. Lab. Code § 5811(b), "provided they are in accordance with the fee schedule set by the administrative director."
 
In several recent panel decisions, the WCAB has found employers/insurers liable for interpreter fees for services while attending medical appointments with applicant and applicant's treating physician.
 
Under Cal. Lab. Code § 5710(b)(5), when a defendant takes the applicant's deposition, the applicant is entitled to a reasonable allowance for services provided by a certified interpreter.
 
In another recent panel decision, the WCAB ordered defendant's claims administrator to pay for interpreter's services at an applicant's attorney's office while the attorney was explaining a compromise and release to the applicant. 
 
For injuries after January 1, 1994, interpreter fees are paid using the Administrative Director's Interpreter Fee Schedule. Sanctions and penalties may be imposed for late payment of fees.
 
Mr. Steinfeld concludes that "the courts are going to rely on what is reasonable as well as the fee schedule. If an interpreter is going to seek a higher sum than the fee schedule, then the court will expect to receive evidence to support the claim."