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How to: legal protection on international level?
Thread poster: Gil Michel

Gil Michel  Identity Verified
Switzerland
Local time: 02:35
English to French
+ ...
Jun 25, 2014

Hello,

Just like many other translators (I would imagine), my "personal situation" is a bit unusual. Indeed, I am a native French speaker from Switzerland, got my bachelor's degree in translation and interpreting in the United Kingdom, and am living in Argentina, working as a freelance translator. This allows for a lot of travelling, emigration, moving around, and all that. I do have one problem with it though: in case of a legal issue, I don't actually know where I would turn and am wondering how other translators in similar situations deal with it.

Indeed, while I was studying in the UK, one of my lecturers mentioned that, as long as you're in the UK, you can purchase an insurance that covers you as an independent in case of a professional mistake (can't quite remember what it was called, possibly "civil liability"). It supposedly costs about £200-300 a year and you're basically "covered" if a client sues you because of a mistake you made in a translation. Now, having checked similar insurances in Switzerland (my home country), I could not find anything that could be applied to an international level. Of course you can hire private lawyers that specialize in international matters, but these cost an absolute fortune and do not seem like a viable option.

I recently had a look at the ITI, in the UK, and am considering applying to join them. In their "Benefits," they mention something about a Professional Indemnity Insurance that you can get if you purchase your civil liability with Towergate Insurance. I still have to hear from them as to whether or not they actually deal with international cases, but I'm wondering what other translators do with this. How are you protecting yourself from legal action?

Hopefully this won't be a service I actually "need;" I am being very careful with my translations, but you never know when it might hit you so I believe it best to be covered "just in case."

Thanks for any input you may have on this.


 

Nicole Coesel  Identity Verified
Netherlands
Local time: 02:35
Member (2012)
Dutch to English
+ ...
Professional Liability Insurance Jun 25, 2014

Hi Gil,

That is indeed an interesting question you raised there. I think that generally anyone trying to sue you will use their own local recources and will do just about anything to force you into using the legal system of the country they are located in.

Therefore, should you take out any insurance of this kind, you should make sure it has worldwide coverage.

Personally, I do not have such an insurance, and it is not very likely some agency will chase you accross the globe for a typo. Most agencies usually have quite good insurances for this which also protect the freelancers they work with.

Having said that, I once had a client (who was so desperate for money) they tried to threaten me with a law suit claiming an excessive amount in damages. Of course I saw the sky falling down, contacted a local attorney, and had him draw up a letter and send it to the agency by registered mail.

The sheer fact the agency received a letter with an attorney's letterhead made them back down straight away. Not only does this action imply I took their threat serious, it clearly shows that I was not affraid and that I was going to stand by and let this agency play around with me. This was not expensive and definately worth the money! This might be a route that suits you as well.

Good luck - and heaven forbid any of us having to take measures like this!

Nicole.


 

Orrin Cummins  Identity Verified
Japan
Local time: 09:35
Japanese to English
+ ...
Be proactive Jun 25, 2014

If you make your own Terms of Service and include in it a clause absolving you of liability, I don't see why you would need insurance. As long as you only work with clients who agree to your terms - but that is something that we all should be doing anyway.

 

Henry Hinds  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 18:35
English to Spanish
+ ...
No Need Jun 26, 2014

For years, every time this subject arises, it has been my practice to ask people if they have actual knowledge of any translator ever being sued for professional liability. No one has ever provided me with a positive answer, thus the only conclusion I can come to is that professional liability insurance for translators is totally unnecessary and if puchased, it would be a complete ripoff for the translator.

 

The Misha
Local time: 20:35
Russian to English
+ ...
Come again? Jun 26, 2014

An old, experienced NYC shyster once enlightened me on this issue. To be successful, any civil liability suit needs two things: i) proven damage; ii) a deep pocket. Proving damage done by alleged translator negligence may be an undertaking in its own right, but it's number two that's the real beaut. Who's the deep pocket here - you? I mean, maybe you are independently wealthy, good for you, but why do you bother contracting yourself out for money then?

Additionally, your situation seems to have an international factor here, which would make it a total nightmare to litigate, and the costs involved would probably defy all reason. As a worst case scenario, just how much damage do you think you could possibly cause with your translations for someone to justify making that much effort to get at you?

Thinking further, you having insurance (that is, in case your potential adversary knows about it) may actually make you MORE likely to get sued since now there's that magic deep pocket available. Make no mistake, people get sued all the time for payouts from their insurance. There's an entire personal injury legal industry in the US doing just that.

Now, come again, why do you think you need insurance?


 

John Fossey  Identity Verified
Canada
Local time: 20:35
Member (2008)
French to English
International insurance Jun 26, 2014

I asked my insurance company about liability coverage and they refused to cover liability outside my own country, because they said it would be impossible for them to determine the risk. With my business serving clients in any country around the globe, each with totally different legal systems, the risk to be covered can't be quantified for insurance purposes.

On the other hand, my Terms spell out that the client agrees that since I have no control over the use of a translation I cannot be held liable under any circumstances for any amount greater than what they have already paid me. The insurance agent told me this was as good as an insurance policy.


 

Thayenga  Identity Verified
Germany
Local time: 02:35
Member (2009)
English to German
+ ...
The need Jun 26, 2014

Henry Hinds wrote:

For years, every time this subject arises, it has been my practice to ask people if they have actual knowledge of any translator ever being sued for professional liability. No one has ever provided me with a positive answer, thus the only conclusion I can come to is that professional liability insurance for translators is totally unnecessary and if puchased, it would be a complete ripoff for the translator.


Yes, this "proof" has been asked for time and again. Seriously, which translator would come out and admit in a public forum that s/he had been sued for a mistake? (And so commit professional suicide.)

If these cases of having been sued by a client have never occurred, then why are translators getting insured? Just so the insurance companies can make some "safe" money? Most definately not.

There have been cases and there will always be cases - however rare they might be - of an unfortunate translator being sued.


 

LEXpert  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 19:35
Member (2008)
Croatian to English
+ ...
What does "international" mean? Jun 26, 2014

John Fossey wrote:

I asked my insurance company about liability coverage and they refused to cover liability outside my own country, because they said it would be impossible for them to determine the risk.


Does that mean that they won't cover a foreign entity that files a lawsuit in your own jurisdiction? Or just they won't cover lawsuits filed outside of Canada? I'd think they would have to defend you in any lawsuit in your own jurisdiction, regardless of who filed it.

Seems like you wouldn't have to be worried about lawsuits filed outside of your own country anyway. Unless you have assets or interests there, just ignore it. What are they going to do? Though it might be wise to avoid traveling there in the future...


 

LEXpert  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 19:35
Member (2008)
Croatian to English
+ ...
Define "deep" Jun 26, 2014

The Misha wrote:
Who's the deep pocket here - you?


What do you mean by "deep"? Do you own a house in your name? That's easily 100-200k on up. A car or two? Retirement portfolio? Do you plan to earn any money for the rest of your life? Assets can be attached, earnings can be garnished, all in the name of enforcing a judgement (though there are usually limits to the amount of wages that can be garnished, but it can go on pretty much indefinitely). For any reasonably successful person, it adds up pretty quick to something worth some shyster lawyer's time.

Sure, they always sue the deep pockets. They also don't hesitate to sue everybody else they think they can prove is at fault or whom they think they can browbeat into a settlement.


 

John Fossey  Identity Verified
Canada
Local time: 20:35
Member (2008)
French to English
Jurisdiction Jun 26, 2014

Rudolf Vedo CT wrote:

John Fossey wrote:

I asked my insurance company about liability coverage and they refused to cover liability outside my own country, because they said it would be impossible for them to determine the risk.


Does that mean that they won't cover a foreign entity that files a lawsuit in your own jurisdiction? Or just they won't cover lawsuits filed outside of Canada? I'd think they would have to defend you in any lawsuit in your own jurisdiction, regardless of who filed it.

Seems like you wouldn't have to be worried about lawsuits filed outside of your own country anyway. Unless you have assets or interests there, just ignore it. What are they going to do? Though it might be wise to avoid traveling there in the future...


I would think that as soon as it arrives in my country the domestic policy would kick in.

It's actually in interesting point because my Terms say only the courts of Quebec have jurisdiction over any dispute and every client's Terms say only their local courts have jurisdiction. And both Terms say the other one doesn't count. So the first fight would be whose court has jurisdiction and the second fight would be whose Terms count. I've never actually heard of it coming to court.


 

Gil Michel  Identity Verified
Switzerland
Local time: 02:35
English to French
+ ...
TOPIC STARTER
Just a quick thank you! Jun 26, 2014

Thanks everyone for the input so far, it's quite interesting to hear about your own experiences in this matter. The more I look into it and read about it, the more it seems that indeed, there's 1) no way to get fully "protected" and 2) quite likely no need for it all things considered. I would agree with Henry on this one; it does look like a waste of money for us translators, unless we actually work in a very risky specialist area.

For example, when my lecturer mentioned this liability insurance thing, it was a parenthesis as we were correcting a medical text. His example was that of a translation where a mistake is made in the dosage of some medication that ends up killing a patient, in which case you could probably expect a lawsuit coming your way. I'm not working with medical texts so I don't believe my work could cause such harm to anyone, but still, it's good to know what to do in case of a "legal problem" knocking on your door.

The idea of having a lawyer send a letter in reply to the lawsuit to make it look "serious" does seem like it would be good enough in most if not all cases; thanks Nicole!


 

Orrin Cummins  Identity Verified
Japan
Local time: 09:35
Japanese to English
+ ...
The ends don't justify the means Jun 26, 2014

John Fossey wrote:

It's actually in interesting point because my Terms say only the courts of Quebec have jurisdiction over any dispute and every client's Terms say only their local courts have jurisdiction. And both Terms say the other one doesn't count. So the first fight would be whose court has jurisdiction and the second fight would be whose Terms count. I've never actually heard of it coming to court.


I can only imagine how much it would cost to resolve even this point of contention in the case of an international dispute - and that's just to determine the competent court for a trial. It's no wonder that translators almost never get taken to court. Most translators aren't doing translation jobs worth hundreds of thousands of dollars, which is probably what it would have to be to make a lawsuit over it worthwhile.


 

Sheila Wilson  Identity Verified
Spain
Local time: 01:35
Member (2007)
English
+ ...
Same here Jun 26, 2014

John Fossey wrote:
I asked my insurance company about liability coverage and they refused to cover liability outside my own country, because they said it would be impossible for them to determine the risk. With my business serving clients in any country around the globe, each with totally different legal systems, the risk to be covered can't be quantified for insurance purposes.

Except that I was naive when I took out the policy and paid for it for years before I realised it only covered clients living, like myself, in France. That was about 50%. When I moved to Spain, I asked the relevant questions and found the same answer: Spanish clients only. Well, in 15 years of freelancing, 30 euros have come from Spain! And I've been here for two years so I don't see that changing very much.

I believe that even some of the translators' associations have policies that expressly exclude the USA, simply because the risk of being sued there is so much greater.


 

The Misha
Local time: 20:35
Russian to English
+ ...
Sure, go right ahead Jun 26, 2014

Rudolf Vedo CT wrote:

The Misha wrote:
Who's the deep pocket here - you?


What do you mean by "deep"? Do you own a house in your name? That's easily 100-200k on up. A car or two? Retirement portfolio? Do you plan to earn any money for the rest of your life? Assets can be attached, earnings can be garnished, all in the name of enforcing a judgement (though there are usually limits to the amount of wages that can be garnished, but it can go on pretty much indefinitely). For any reasonably successful person, it adds up pretty quick to something worth some shyster lawyer's time.

Sure, they always sue the deep pockets. They also don't hesitate to sue everybody else they think they can prove is at fault or whom they think they can browbeat into a settlement.


Going after someone's personal assets without knowing what those assets are is a fool's task. Suffice it to say that no lawyer worth his salt will take it on on a contingency basis, which means you will have to prepay his retainer, expenses and what not - all for a very, very uncertain outcome.

If you are really concerned, you can incorporate and then, if you don't commingle your business and personal assets, which essentially means doing your accounting right, no one can touch your personal stuff.

But who am I to tell you, or anyone else what to do? Go ahead, buy the insurance. They will only be too happy to sell it to you and take your money. And while you are at it, you can also bury your five gold coins and watch that money tree grow like no one's business.


 

Ana Vozone  Identity Verified
Local time: 01:35
Member (2010)
English to Portuguese
+ ...
I have had Professional Indemnity Insurance Jun 27, 2014

since I joined ITI (www.iti.org.uk) in 2008.

ITI members get a discount on this type of insurance, and I currently use the following company:

www.m-f-l.co.uk

I can add that my policy states the following:

GEOGRAPHICAL LIMITS: Worldwide

JURISDICTION LIMITS: Worldwide

After reading the fine print, I decided to go for it 6 years ago, and intend to keep this type of cover for as long as I work...

I once read that Larousse had to reprint/recall a whole edition of their Petit Larousse because they printed some information that was (dangerously) wrong about mushrooms... I would not like to be part of that circuit / liable as a translator, proofreader, editor and have no insurance cover...

For a 600,000 euro "limit of indemnity" I am paying around 85 euros a year. This expense can be deducted as a business expense. So, I definitely think it is worth taking insurance cover and sleeping better at night!

I hope I have helped!


 
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