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Poll: Have you ever heard of a translator being sued for professional reasons?
Thread poster: ProZ.com Staff
ProZ.com Staff
Local time: 11:02
SITE STAFF
Jan 11, 2007

This forum topic is for the discussion of the poll question "Have you ever heard of a translator being sued for professional reasons?".

This poll was originally submitted by Karin Usher

View the poll here

A forum topic will appear each time a new poll is run. For more information, see: http://proz.com/topic/33629


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Karin Usher
Local time: 18:02
Member (2006)
English to Portuguese
+ ...
Hello everyone! Jan 12, 2007

I suggested this poll because I have been getting quotes for professional indemnity... but the cost seems so high and they say it is because of problems that happened in the past with translators. The problem here is particularly with translators that work either in the legal and medical fields.

As I have never heard of anybody being sued, I wanted to know if anyone else did.

I just wanted to know if their claim had any foundation!!

Many thanks


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Henry Hinds  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 12:02
English to Spanish
+ ...
Let's See Some Examples Jan 12, 2007

There have been many people concerned about this item, but I for one have yet to see concrete information on any actual case of translator's professional liabiity.

It would be quite educational if those who answer "yes" would share some examples and details.


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Tomás Cano Binder, CT  Identity Verified
Spain
Local time: 19:02
Member (2005)
English to Spanish
+ ...
No copyright, no responsability Jan 12, 2007

In my opinion, us translators working for ISPs mostly get a limited part of the actual price paid by the end customer. Our name does not appear anywhere, and the possible copyright associated to our work is held by the ISP or by the customer.

In my opinion, our liability should be limited to correcting the translation and/or returning the fee we were paid in case of a demonstrable mistake. If someone dies or has an injury as a consequence of a mistranslation, I think we are morally responsible for not being careful enough, but should not lose all we have.

We have seen that customers are very reluctant to accept this limitation of our liability, and try not to sign agreements which don't include this. And I say try not to... :-/

[Edited at 2007-01-12 03:57]


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Heike Kurtz  Identity Verified
Germany
Local time: 19:02
Member (2005)
English to German
+ ...
Translator sued client in Germany Jan 12, 2007

In Germany, there has been one case about two years ago: the translator that had done the German translation of "Silk" - a novel by Alessandro Barrico - sued the publishers for royalties. She had translated all previous novels by that author and even received a prize for the quality of her translation. The books had not been a great success, but suddenly "Silk" sold extremely well. In Germany, there is a law which grants 1-2 % of the earnings from sales above 10,000 sold books to the translator (I think so, I do not know the law 100 %) even if this has not been provided for in the original PO. Translators call it the "unexpected best seller paragraph". The publishers had refused to pay her that money because royalties had not been part of the original PO.

She won the case and was granted the respective amount from the sales of "Silk". The reaction of the publishing house caused some turmoil among the translator's community: they had the book re-translated by some other translator (although, according to German law, the translator becomes the copyright owner of the German version of a book he/she translates) and the colleague who had done the first translation was in danger of getting no more jobs from German book publishers for being a "troublemaker".

I do not know how the case was resolved in the end, but I guess she must have had some kind of insurance (or maybe she was supported by the German association of literature translators...)


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Heike Kurtz  Identity Verified
Germany
Local time: 19:02
Member (2005)
English to German
+ ...
Customer is responsible for publishing correct instructions Jan 12, 2007

As an answer to Tomás' comment:

I can only comment on the situation in Germany as I am living there. I guess it depends on who is responsible for the publication of a text. This person or entity has to make sure that everything published is correct. I think translators are only liable in cases of gross negligence (but I am no lawyer).

On the other hand, the situation in the US seems to be different. I have no "hands on" experience, but I have heard that lawyers over there can sue anyone that has ever touched a project for damages. There is even a joke saying that they would sue "the cleaning woman that wiped the translator's desk".

I personally know some translators who would never touch any operating manuals of devices that are liable to be sold in the USA because if you are sued there, no insurance in the whole wide world can be high enough.

Not my piece of cake actually, since I never translate operating manuals anyway....


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Tomás Cano Binder, CT  Identity Verified
Spain
Local time: 19:02
Member (2005)
English to Spanish
+ ...
Makes sense! Jan 12, 2007

hkurtz wrote:
As an answer to Tomás' comment:
I can only comment on the situation in Germany as I am living there. I guess it depends on who is responsible for the publication of a text. This person or entity has to make sure that everything published is correct. I think translators are only liable in cases of gross negligence (but I am no lawyer).


Yes, that does make sense. I also think that if the customer asks someone with no experience in the field to follow the manual word by word, the risk always exists... even in operating manuals.

I really think that nobody would operate a dangerous or heavy machine or device without any experience or training in the field, and most people still have their own reasoning to protect them from an eventual unaccurate translation...

But of course if you add a translation mistake + reviewer mistake + proofreader mistake + dangerous machine or device + unreasonable or unexperienced user + unresponsive customer or field service always asking to do exactly as stated in the manual... Uh oh....!!


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Victor Dewsbery  Identity Verified
Germany
Local time: 19:02
German to English
+ ...
Great topic, but .... Jan 12, 2007

... without examples it is impossible to know what the results mean.

Of 486 responses so far, 13% (i.e. 63 people) have heard of a translator being sued.
How many cases does that mean?
It may mean only one case in only one country (if the case became known through sources that they all use, i.e. a trade magazine, a website, a conference that they all attended).
Or it may mean several dozen cases against translators in which compensation was claimed for errors in the translation.

So like Henry, I would like to see some examples.
I realise that it might be embarrassing for people to post details of their own mistakes and of court cases against them, or they may not wish to betray the confidences of a colleague who has been in such a situation. But some information about the case or cases can be given without betraying confidential information.

To those who know of such cases: it would be great if you could add the following information:
1. In what country or countries did the case or cases take place?
2. Were they sued for formal reasons (e.g. failing to meet deadlines, betraying confidences) or for mistakes in the content of the translations?
3. Is the result of the cases known? (i.e. did they have to pay compensation, or did they receive compensation for false accusations?)


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Jenny Forbes  Identity Verified
Local time: 18:02
Member (2006)
French to English
+ ...
No translator I know has been sued for professional reasons, but ... Jan 12, 2007

No translator known to me has been sued for professional reasons, but I work in some isolation and most of my information is obtained through websites such as ProZ.
The asker wants to know if it's worth taking out professional liability insurance.
I looked into this once, and found that a key clause in such policies was that, in order to be covered, the translator would have to have contacted the client (in provable form) in any case where doubt had arisen in a translation. Surely no translator can honestly say that they have never been in any doubt about certain terms. Therefore, in order to be covered, the translator would have to have informed the client in writing of every little doubt. Would such insurance be worth having?
In the case of work for publication, such as books and technical manuals, the client (agency or publisher) uses an editor to check the translator's work, and the translator works in close collaboration with the editor throughout the work, so in any case the translator's responsibility is shared with the editor and the client.
I believe most translators are considered to have produced a translation "to the best of their knowledge and belief" and sometimes we have to sign a document making that declaration, or even have such a document notarised.


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Helen Godfrey  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 18:02
French to English
+ ...
One of the "yes" votes Jan 12, 2007

I nearly replied "no" but then remembered that I read of an example of a translation relating to the construction of a building where the translator mistranslated/miscopied (cannot remember) the figures for very expensive steel beams that were specially manufactured for the building. The company took the translator to court.
Having said that, I agree that it is difficult to quantify these figures as in this case, for example, I am not even sure whether this was in the UK or elsewhere! So it hardly provides an accurate picture.


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Andrea Riffo  Identity Verified
Chile
Local time: 15:02
English to Spanish
In voted no... Jan 12, 2007

... but then I remember I know of a case, though it wasn't the translator the one who got sued.

I know a translator who once made a mistake in a press release about a certain company's financial statement and translated "earnings" as "pérdidas" ("lossess").

Because of this, said company's stock value plummeted and they lost a lot of money, so they sued the firm the translator worked for (but not the translator him/herself).


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Patricia Rosas  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 11:02
Spanish to English
+ ...
the results of this poll are heartening... Jan 12, 2007

First, unfortunately, the wording of this poll is (once again) flawed. It is heartening that only 15% of us have "heard of a lawsuit," but even if 99% of us had "heard of a lawsuit," there well might be only ONE such lawsuit, but a famous one.

I do think this means that lawsuits are rare. And the case Hkurtz cites is a translator filing (and winning) a suit, not being sued.

Granted that I work on texts that don't involve health, commerce, or court cases, but after working freelance as an editor and translator for more than a decade, I don't feel the need for an insurance policy.


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Enrique Cavalitto
Local time: 15:02
SITE STAFF
Flawed wording Jan 12, 2007

Patricia Rosas wrote:

First, unfortunately, the wording of this poll is (once again) flawed. It is heartening that only 15% of us have "heard of a lawsuit," but even if 99% of us had "heard of a lawsuit," there well might be only ONE such lawsuit, but a famous one.



Hi Patricia,

How would you have worded this poll?

Regards,
Enrique


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Tony M  Identity Verified
France
Local time: 19:02
Member
French to English
+ ...
I too looked into it Jan 14, 2007

...but my general insurance broker said I could only get cover for one kind of liability, i.e. direct damages, and not for indirect.

As the indirect were likely to be far the most serious and expensive, it didn't seem worth it to me.

I know certain professional associations do offer insurance, but I've heard it only amounts to a link to an outside broker.

A separate forum thread on this entire topic would probably be very worthwhile?


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Christine Andersen  Identity Verified
Denmark
Local time: 19:02
Member (2003)
Danish to English
+ ...
Probably settled out of court Jan 15, 2007

I did hear of a translator who forgot a date on a woman's divorce papers, but the case was probably settled out of court - there was no dispute about it. Still, the insurance company would probably have to pay up, and if the issue is whether it is worthwhile being insured, then even out-of court settlements can be expensive.

The divorced woman spoke Spanish but lived in Denmark, and wanted to remarry. She and her intended had invited a lot of friends and family to somewhere in Spain to celebrate, but when they arrived, the authorities would not accept the papers because the date was missing. The wedding could not be officially held, and this naturally spoilt the party!

The couple wanted expenses paid for a new trip to Spain etc.

I don't know what was settled, but even a technically tiny error can have serious consequences. If the translator admits the error, then there is no need to incur court expenses on top of anything else, and it may be easiest for all concerned to settle out of court if possible. Most insurers would be happy to accept a reasonable agreement like that.

I have an insurance policy that covers a lot of other things as well... I hope I never need any of it, but I do sleep better at night because I have signed it, and it was not that expensive.



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