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No ophthalmologist appointment for patient with assistance dog. Court: this is discrimination based on disability

An ophthalmologist violated personal interests of a patient whom he refused to see due to the presence of an assistance dog, held the Regional Court in Kraków, ordering the physician to make a charitable donation.

The case concerns Jolanta Kramarz, who in 2015 wanted to use the medical services of an ophthalmologist. She made a telephone appointment and later emailed the doctor’s office that she would arrive with her assistance dog that accompanies her on a daily basis. As soon this became apparent, the doctor cancelled the appointment and gave the patient addresses of other ophthalmology clinics. He justified his decision referring to the necessity of inquiring what are the options of providing medical services to persons aided by assistance dogs. The Commissioner for Human Rights, acting in the name of Ms Kramarz, has brought the action against the medical doctor, and the HFHR has joined the case. The CHR sought one thousand zloty as compensation for moral injuries on account of a violation of patients’ right. The claimant also demanded that the doctor be ordered to make a charitable payment as a remedy for the violation of her personal interests.

First instance judgment

In July 2017, the District Court for Kraków-Podgórze ruled that an ophthalmologist’s cancellation of an appointment of a blind patient travelling with an assistance dog constituted a violation of the patient’s rights. Accordingly, the Court awarded the client compensation for moral injuries but held that her personal interests had not been violated, refraining from ordering a charitable payment. This part of the judgment was challenged by the CHR and HFHR on appeal.

Judgment of appellate court

The Regional Court admitted the appeals of the Foundation and the CHR and amended the judgment. The Court ruled that the physician had violated the patient’s personal interests. On this account, the Court ordered the ophthalmologist to pay PLN 10,000 for a charitable purpose, namely a foundation offering courses for assistance dogs.

In the Court’s assessment, the cancellation of the appointment because of the presence of an assistance dog was unreasonable and unlawful, and constituted a manifestation of discrimination based on Jolanta Kramarz’s disability”, says Jarosław Jagura, who represented the HFHR in the proceedings. “The court considered that this behaviour of the physician had violated such personal interests of the patient as freedom and dignity. The appellate court also noted that under the law, persons travelling with assistance dogs have the right to access public utility establishments, including medical clinics”, Mr Jagura adds.

The judgment is final and binding.

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