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Time frame for customer complaint?
Thread poster: Mary Watson

Mary Watson  Identity Verified
Local time: 02:49
German to English
+ ...
Jul 9, 2008

An agency I have been working for steadily for the past 5 years just contacted me to tell me a translation I completed for them had been rejected by the customer. I was pretty upset by this, of course, but then confused as I had a very dim memory of this particular translation. I looked through my email files, and it turns out I sent the completed translation to the agency at the beginning of May, over 2 months ago!

I don't know what to make of this - in the past, when there has been a question by the client, I've always received it within 2-3 days of the delivery.

Has anyone else had this experience? If so, how did you handle it? Is there any sort of standard time period when a client can make a complaint?

I wrote back to the agency with similar questions, and am waiting to hear back. I also wrote them asking about the proofreading that was done on this job. This agency is always very meticulous (which I'm glad of ) and will return jobs for the most minor issues.

This is adding to my confusion, as the email from the agency asked me when I could "rework" the translation. It was 20,000 words long. The only comment that was made was that the customer said I used the wrong technical terms. No examples. It was an operating manual for a utility company. I wrote back asking for the customer to provide more detail and in the best case scenario, a glossary, as they apparently had their own in-house vocabulary they wanted to be used. So, even in the rework, without knowledge of the specific terms they want, I could just use new "incorrect" terminology.

I'd appreciate feedback on how I handled this and any further suggestions on whether I should do anything else.


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Boris Sigalov
Local time: 09:49
English to Russian
Yes, time frame for customer complaints Jul 9, 2008

Mary Watson wrote:

Is there any sort of standard time period when a client can make a complaint?


Mary,

On all my invoices it's clearly stated:

'Quality issues (if any) should be raised by the customer not later than 10 calendar days after receipt of this invoice.'


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ViktoriaG  Identity Verified
Canada
Local time: 02:49
English to French
+ ...
Contract law Jul 9, 2008

Unless there are laws in your country that already give you protection, the only thing that you could use is a clause in your contract.

In Canada, there is a law according to which, if you wait more than ten days after the delivery of a service or good to make a claim, you are legally reputed to have accepted that good or service as is (save for a few exceptions, like real estate). This means that starting on the eleventh day following delivery, the client can't make claims. No matter where the client is, since I am in Canada and I have sold the service in Canada, the law applies.

If you have a contract which contains a clause limiting the duration after which your translation is deemed accepted as is, you are protected. But I think that even a vague clause saying that the client has to make claims within a reasonable delay works in your favor - two months is not a reasonable delay.

I also wanted to mention that it is not your client who rejects your translation - it is your client's client, with whom you have no contract. Your client can't hold you liable for what happens between him and his client - that has to do with their contract, not yours. Your client is supposed to stand up for you now. This seems to be a classic issue of dispute based solely on a blatant refusal to pay "so much money" for a measly translation (the end client is trying to get away without paying). However, you didn't choose to work with your client's client - your client did. If they didn't check who they were dealing with, or make arrangements to protect all parties, that is not your fault and not your problem.

Lastly, I would like to remind you that the copyright of the translation is your property as long as you haven't received full payment for it. If the client's client has been using your translation, then they must cough up the money. In that case, this isn't a non-payment issue anymore. It is also a copyright violation issue. Let your client know about this tactfully, and let the client know that you refuse to waive payment for work that you did perform and that the client didn't find any problem with for two entire months. Let the client know that this is between him and his client, but that in the meantime, you retain the copyright.

On a closing note, I have had claims (not really dissatisfaction, just questions and requests to change a word here or there because of client preferences) for a couple of projects. I think the longest was a month. These things do bother me, and I have been helping the client out even though it explicitly says on my contract that the client can make claims only within ten days from the date of delivery. But lately, there have been so many tasks assigned to translators that should be the project manager's job, and there have been so many things the translators were asked to look after for several weeks after the job is finished that I think I am going to apply this clause to the millimeter. "Sorry, the claim period is over. Better luck next time!"

[Edited at 2008-07-09 17:13]


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Steffen Walter  Identity Verified
Germany
Local time: 08:49
Member (2002)
English to German
+ ...
Unacceptable practice - have you been paid already? Jul 9, 2008

Mary Watson wrote:
An agency I have been working for steadily for the past 5 years just contacted me to tell me a translation I completed for them had been rejected by the customer. I was pretty upset by this, of course, but then confused as I had a very dim memory of this particular translation. I looked through my email files, and it turns out I sent the completed translation to the agency at the beginning of May, over 2 months ago!


Hi Mary,

It is plain unacceptable for a customer to come forward with such a complaint after such a long delay, all the more so since you've mentioned that they responded almost immediately in all other cases before. The two-month period that has passed since you delivered the job also seems to indicate that you should have been paid for this assignment long ago. Which payment term did you agree on in this case?

Also, it is utterly unprofessional, on the part of the customer, to just state "after the fact" that you "used the wrong technical terms". In the case of specific "in-house vocabulary" involved, the end customer should have provided the agency (and thus you) with a glossary when contracting the job (i.e. at the outset).

In my view, in responding to this complaint, you did the right thing in asking for more detail to prove your alleged "errors", but you should also (have) ask(ed) for immediate payment in full because of the two months that have passed already.

My 2c worth,
Steffen


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Mary Watson  Identity Verified
Local time: 02:49
German to English
+ ...
TOPIC STARTER
Thank you for the responses Jul 9, 2008

Thank you all very much for your responses and for the very helpful and practical suggestions. I will be sure to include a clause such as those suggested from now on. It was also very reassuring to know that I am not the only one who thinks the two month delay is unreasonable!

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Peter Linton  Identity Verified
Local time: 07:49
Member (2002)
Swedish to English
+ ...
15 years Jul 9, 2008

Before you get too cheerful and comfortable, let me pour some cold water on this issue. We all have occasional similar experiences -- the customer does not like your translation, but will not help.

I am by no means a legal expert, but as I understand it, if you do not ask for or receive payment, then there is no contract, and therefore you cannot be held liable. So it may not be such a bad idea not to demand payment. That also protects your copyright.

There is also a long-term legal issue. If your translation contains a serious error that you are unaware of, and the customer refuses to help, then if your translation results in serious harm to someone as a result of your alleged negligence, even many years later, you can still be sued. What is more, in the UK at least, you can be sued up to 15 years after the alleged act of negligence. A clause in your contract limiting your liability to 2 months will not protect you.

I have also heard it stated that because of this limit, you need to continue to pay professional liability insurance premiums for 15 years after you stop translating.

In short, there is much more to this than a simple question of setting a limit to the approval process. Can anyone throw more light on this ?


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Mary Watson  Identity Verified
Local time: 02:49
German to English
+ ...
TOPIC STARTER
Thanks for the cold water Jul 9, 2008

Thanks, Peter, I certainly am no longer "cheerful and comfortable". I'll certainly be glad to hear from others about the legal implications.

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KSL Berlin  Identity Verified
Portugal
Local time: 07:49
Member (2003)
German to English
+ ...
Interesting Jul 9, 2008

Peter Linton wrote:
Before you get too cheerful and comfortable, let me pour some cold water on this issue.


Cold water? More like submersion in an Arctic lake In January no less.

You raise an interesting point with a time scale I've not heard mentioned before. Now I think I have a question I can pose the next time our local translators' association chapter has a legal advice hour scheduled.


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xxxJPW  Identity Verified
Local time: 07:49
Spanish to English
+ ...
15 years is ripping it a bit...surely? Jul 9, 2008

If I caused a car accident in 2001 and someone tried to sue me in 2008 for injuries caused back then, would I be liable because I have no car insurance in the year 2008, even though I did have it at the time of the accident? That is the question.

Or, another way: do I have to continue paying out for car insurance even though I stopped driving 5, or 10 or even 15 years ago, just in case? I doubt it.

In any event, in the UK at least, there is a statute of limitations, which, when I was training, was 3 years for personal injury actions (due to their nature) and 6 for other civil claims. These values may well have changed in the interim, especially for injury claims...so don't quote me on that.

You would need to consider yourself extremely unlucky to be sued for a "bad" translation IN ANY CASE, let alone 15 years laters. Yes, fifteen years laters.

Translators don't get sued at all. Period. Far, far easier to withhold the payment. Especially when there is an issue of work done in one country and used in another. The original question was one of time-frame for a complaint about quality, i.e what is considered a 'reasonable' period, and, in the absence of a particular clause in a contract, would be determined by the court dealing with the issue, assuming it got to court at all, which I doubt it would. But don't quote me on that either, as there is always a first time! And I am not suggesting for a minute that Mary should be that be unlucky first person, no no.

Which begs the question I alluded to above: jurisdiction. Sorting out where a claim should be heard is more complex than you might think. So time consuming and costly, such time and costs usually far outweighing what was originally disputed most of the time, to such an extent that everbody gives up. The wheels of justice turn slowly indeed.

As for Peter's point about, well, here, let me quote it:
if you do not ask for or receive payment, then there is no contract, and therefore you cannot be held liable. So it may not be such a bad idea not to demand payment. That also protects your copyright.
- the fact is, you kept your side of the bargain, i.e. I translated this [to my best ability] now you owe me money: that's it. There is a contract. Agency offered me xxx money for xxx thousand words, I accepted said offer, they accepted said acceptance, I delivered on time, now I want paid. Non-payment means a breach of contract on the agency's part.

But it is not known in this case, whether the translation was paid for already or not.

Copyright, another tricky issue; but I would say 'How could a client be in breach of your copyrights after having complained about quality?' Surely they wouldn't use the translation at all if there was a quality issue with it? Or, again, another way: if they are complaining about your poor translation on the one hand, but still using it on the other hand, then yes you have an issue of copyright ownership there. Especially if there is a non-payment connection, but we don't know this.

I'd be interested to know where Peter got the '15 years' thing from in the first instance, perhaps that is the new time period for such actions, given the UK government's propensity for 'fixing' things that ain't broken. Just blame it all on Jack Straw (a man I literally bumped into once..., he apologized, in the traditional English way of saying sorry for things you didn't do, like when someone treads on your toes and you say sorry to them...). But I digress somewhat.

By the by, the original poster was in the USA, so attorney-advice would be more appropriate, assuming things don't get resolved more amicably (which I am sure they will).

Peter does however throw up an interesting point about PII (insurance) - most people don't bother with it, so the vast majority can't be overly concerned about being sued, can they?

There aren't any known documented cases of anyone being sued, this was discussed recently in a forum, or held liable for mis-translations, and that surely includes all the ones we've all had a good laugh at...

So let me pour some warm(er) water on the topic to finish off, and, to Mary, the original poster: get that clause in your T&Cs!

Quote:
General Motors introduced the Chevy Nova in South America, it was apparently unaware that "no va" means "it won't go". After the company figured out why it wasn't selling any cars, it renamed the car in its Spanish markets.
End quote.


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JackieMcC
Local time: 08:49
French to English
my personal record Jul 10, 2008

Hi all,
just to lighten things up a bit, some time ago I was contacted by an agency with a query, rather than a complaint. The end client wanted to know why I'd chosen to translate a certain word in a certain way.
I was rather bemused as I couldn't remember the translation at all, and I usually have a pretty good memory.
Looking through my records it turned out this was a one-page document I'd translated 2 years earlier !!
I suppose at least some one got round to reading it eventually

Can anyone beat this?

Jackie


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Peter Linton  Identity Verified
Local time: 07:49
Member (2002)
Swedish to English
+ ...
More on 15 years Jul 10, 2008

John Paul Weir wrote:
I'd be interested to know where Peter got the '15 years' thing

If I recall correctly, the source was a discussion on the ITI (the UK-based Institute of Translation and Interpreting) website, pointing out a long-stop time limit for legal action. Unfortunately there is no proper search facility on the ITI website, so I cannot find it now.

Again, I claim no legal expertise, but as I understand it the problem can arise if a defect in your translation does not become apparent for many years.

This was in relation to a particular case (sorry, again I have no clear-cut source) in which a car manufacturer recalled some cars for modifications. The company issued instructions on how to rectify the fault in many languages, but it turned out years later that one of these translation had a serious translation error introduced by the translator which led directly to faulty repairs on a car resulting in an accident and injuries to a passenger.

I do not know the outcome of this case, but it illustrates that translation errors may not come to light until many years after a translation. What is the legal situation then ?

To change your example slightly,
If I mis-translated a text in 2001 and someone tried to sue me in 2008 for injuries, would I be liable because I have no professional indemnity insurance in 2008, even though I did have it at the time of the mis-translation? That is the question.

[Edited at 2008-07-10 09:26]


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Charlie Bavington  Identity Verified
Local time: 07:49
French to English
Coverage Jul 10, 2008

Peter Linton wrote:
If I mis-translated a text in 2001 and someone tried to sue me in 2008 for injuries, would I be liable because I have no professional indemnity insurance in 2008, even though I did have it at the time of the mis-translation? That is the question.


I am no lawyer, and neither do I have PII, for the reasons stated above - no-one ever gets sued - and also because it tends not to cover work outside your country of residence.

However, I would like to point out that I would hope, and indeed expect from my (limited) experience of commercial-type insurance (credit insurance, since you ask!), that the cover would apply to any work invoiced during the period you were insured for. Irrespective of your situation at the time the claim arises.

If this is not the case, I would suggest this is yet another reason not to bother with PII.

[Edited at 2008-07-10 10:59]


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xxxJPW  Identity Verified
Local time: 07:49
Spanish to English
+ ...
Interesting case highlighted Jul 10, 2008

I would have thought that an institution such as the ITI would be able to provide clear(er) advice on such matters, for that is why they are there, is it not - to provide advice, support, best practice guidelines, career development etc.

My gut instinct is that 15 years is an excessively long time.However there are parallels in other areas: buildings for example, may have defects that lie undetected for even longer periods, and successful actions have been brought for 'inherent or latent defects'. Now, a building and a translated document are patently not the same thing.

But technically, yes, a 'defect' in a translated document could also lie undetected for a long time. Nevertheless the 'remoteness of time' would I think cause serious problems of who is [ultimately] liable for it. The usual relationship is CLIENT --> AGENCY --> TRANSLATOR; and if the work was undertaken via an agency, I'd contend that the first port of call for a disgruntled customer (justified or not) would be to the door of the agency.

Since no one seems to know of a clear-cut case of a translator being held personally liable for his or her work, the reluctant conclusion - in the absence of contrary evidence - is that it never happens, probably for a variety of reasons, viz:

1) Who bears the ultimate responsibility? Is it the person who translated it, or the agency who never checked it before passing it on to the client...? In other words, who does the client sue - the agency, the translator, or both? Vicarious liablity could also play a part here.

2) Remoteness of time. There may well be a valid claim, but if the statute of limitations applies, then it cannot be brought, unless the clever lawyers can find a way round it.

3) Assuming a successful action was brought, and won, by the client - is it worth chasing a translator for payment if he/she has **no money** to pay out? You'd then just be throwing good money after bad.

4) Even if you had PII at the time of the incident, did it adequately cover you? Insurance policies are notoriously full of exclusions, usually only discovered when it's too late...people almost never read the small print, the nitty-gritty of the document.

To quote Peter's final point:
If I mis-translated a text in 2001 and someone tried to sue me in 2008 for injuries, would I be liable because I have no professional indemnity insurance in 2008, even though I did have it at the time of the mis-translation? That is the question.
- my contention is that yes, you would be covered theoretically. In any case, if someone knocked on your door tomorrow to serve a writ for translations done a few years back, I'd say the first thing you would do is pass the matter straight on to your solicitor or the insurance company who sold you the policy in the first place and say: 'deal with that!'

For all these reasons, and more probably too, most(?) people have a clause in their T&Cs stating that damages are strictly limited to the economic value of the work done.

Of course, and generally speaking here, just because something is written in an official-looking document with CONTRACT or TERMS & CONDITIONS scrawled in bold across the top line in big, shouty capital letters (see examples!) does not necessarily mean that it will stand up in a court of law. That's what courts are for, to test the validity of such things. On the merits of the individual case.

A recent example: remember when all the banks would write you a £30 letter for going 5p into the red, and thereby making your problem even worse? Well, everyone assumed they were entitled to do it, they even wrote it into their conditions. But then people started taking them to court to get those same conditions declared 'unreasonable'; and they are winning their cases.

If anyone did indeed find themselves in the unfortunate position of being sued for a mis-translation, they are unlikely to take it lying down anyway; most people would defend their work and say to hell with them, let them sue. One more tactic in any legal battle is just stringing the whole thing along...

Finally, and very controversially, more translators being sued for shoddy work is not necessarily a bad thing for the industry. Since that clearly hasn't happened, I can only conclude that it has yet to pass, the old proverbial 'floodgates' waiting to be opened.

Bottom line: put a time clause for revisions/complaints in your standard terms, and also one which limits your liability (esp. if you don't have PII). If a dispute ever arises, at least you have something in print to point to, and pass the ball to the other court.

The car case which Peter refers to is an interesting one, and I'd like to hear more info on it; likewise if anyone has a PII policy I'd be interested to know if it says anything about covering you for any period of time after the work is done. I suspect it will itself be limited or constricted in some way.


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KSL Berlin  Identity Verified
Portugal
Local time: 07:49
Member (2003)
German to English
+ ...
Translators in court Jul 10, 2008

> There aren't any known documented cases of anyone being sued,
> this was discussed recently in a forum, or held liable for
> mis-translations....

My circle of acquaintance is fairly small, but I know of two cases in Germany where a legal complaint ended up in court - in one case after about a year and a half.

One involved subsequent changes to a source document where the translation was not updated. The client (a well-known international vehicle manufacturer) sued, claiming that the translator had mistranslated the document and caused a series of problems as a result. The case was dismissed after the translator produced the original source materials from the client, proving that changes had been made and the original translation was correct. The moral of this story: archive EVERYTHING.

The other case involved a quality complaint, particularly with regard to the use of American terminology instead of British terms and the overall clarity of the document. The source document turned out to be messy engineer's notes rather than a proper document, and the translation was judged proper given the source quality. Archived correspondence showed that no terminology had been provided and no preference for a language variant was stated. Case dismissed. Once again: archive source documents and correspondence!


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xxxJPW  Identity Verified
Local time: 07:49
Spanish to English
+ ...
Archive everything is of course a critical thing to do. Jul 10, 2008

And as a result of proper archiving, the translators in both cited cases were able to successfully defend their respective positions.

The result in both cases was that there was effectively no case to answer, the court having assessed the merits of each. And probably quite justified too.

That still doesn't provide an example of a case where someone was actually found legally liable for a 'mis-translation' or a negligent translation or call it what you will.

And a case where the whole episode occurred a decade and a half prior to the actual court case is even rarer still.

Negligence can be tricky to prove. You need to show there existed a duty of care, there was a breach of that duty, that damages were suffered as a direct result etc etc. What constitutes a negligent translation then? Spelling mistakes? Would that be enough?

Research has shown that as lnog as the frsit and lsat letres are in the rghit odrer, you can sltil raed the snetnece and mkae sesne of it...

I don't think mere orthographic mistakes or 'typos' would be enough. Incorrect terminology would be a different matter. The lease on my flat is one of the worst examples of a lease I have ever seen, full of obscure, outdated legalese - and spelling mistakes too. But I am unlikely to ever have to contest their meanings in a court of law, so I am not overly bothered. The bits I didn't agree with I simply struck out.

I can well believe that poor translations have, somewhere, at some time, given rise to physical injury or other forms of damage. But they have yet to be tried in a court and unsuccessfully defended, to create a precedent for future translators along the lines of: be careful what you write.

Kevin's two examples show just how hard it can be to pin something on the poor translator once all the relevant facts come to the surface. Or, to put it another way: don't sue in the first place if you haven't a leg to stand on.


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