Wednesday, September 20, 2006

The Hazards of Cultural Interpretation

The 4th District Court of Appeal, in Basha v. Dorelien, 2006 Fla. App. LEXIS 15468 [Fla. 4th DCA 2006], illustrates the hazards of making cultural interpretations. The plaintiff argues on appeal that the trial judge erred in granting a motion for summary judgment because the motion was facially insufficient, genuine issues of material fact existed, and the court improperly based its decision on an issue not raised in the motion [imposing a Haitian cultural interpretation on the words employed in an e-mail]. The appellate court agreed.

A plain reading of the correspondence revealed that the defendants were well educated and fluent in English. The trial judge on his own imposed a Haitian cultural interpretation of the language employed in the communications between the parties. This was not an issue raised by the defendants’ motion for summary judgment. As plaintiff’s counsel argued at the hearing, had the motion raised the issue, the plaintiff could have countered with an expert on Haitian culture. [What is the meaning of the word “we” in a cultural context?]

Very interesting! So, is it sufficient to “speak the language” or do we need cultural experts in mediation also?

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