Alabama Workers' Comp Blawg

  • 15
  • Apr
  • 2022

How to Know When you Need an Interpreter

The Tennessee Bureau of Workers’ Compensation recently adopted a set of guidelines to be utilized when an interpreter is used in a court proceeding.

Personally, I have used an interpreter at trial numerous times and for deposition even more. On one occasion, I was hired to take the deposition of a claimant that moved from California to Alabama. It was a California claim but the insurance company hired me for the sole purpose of deposing the claimant. The company scheduled the deposition and hired the interpreter. As a side note, you do not ever want to refer to a professional interpreter as a translator. They do not like it and will be quick to correct you. Back to the story. When the deposition began, I went through my usual rules where I instruct the interpreter to interpret only what I am saying, and not to answer any question on his/her own, and I instruct the deponent to only direct his/her questions to me through the interpreter. With that we began. About 30 minutes into the deposition, rules were broken so I went off the record and went through them again. When I asked if the rules were understood. The deponent said yes. After staring at him for a few seconds, I asked if he understood English. He replied that he did. He said he was from California not Mexico. When I asked why we were using an interpreter, he replied that he had been wondering the same thing, but he thought he should follow my instructions.

The following is a summary of the guidelines adopted in by the Tennessee Bureau of WC:

  • Use professional interpreters only. No more family members, co-workers or paralegals interpreting ̶ even for settlements, status hearings and motions.
  • Ensure full interpretation by waiting for each sentence to be interpreted. This will take longer for sure, but we can be patient.
  • No simultaneous interpretation will be permitted. This is where the interpreter whispers into the LEP person’s ear while the trial is on-going. It’s just too hard for the interpreter and the LEP person to process all the information, and it’s distracting to the others in the courtroom.
  • Review protocols with the interpreter and counsel beforehand. The judge will instruct the interpreter to convey exactly what is said. The interpreter will ask the judge or speaking party to explain a question or statement if the LEP person needs an explanation before answering. Also, the interpreter will not provide an explanation on their own.
  • Provide training to interpreters on workers’ compensation law. We have our own peculiar language and processes. This will make them better interpreters.

Alabama has not yet adopted a set of guidelines. Hopefully, if and when such guidelines are being considered, they will add one more item to the above list.

  • Confirm interpreter is needed. Ask the witness if he/she speaks and understands the English language.

About the Author

This blog submission was prepared by Mike Fish, an attorney with Fish Nelson & Holden, LLC, a law firm dedicated to representing self-insured employers, insurance carriers, and third party administrators in all matters related to workers’ compensation. Fish Nelson & Holden is a member of the National Workers’ Compensation Defense Network. If you have any questions about this submission or Alabama workers’ compensation in general, please contact Fish by e-mailing him at or by calling him directly at 205-332-1448.

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