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Certified translations and liability
Thread poster: Roman Lutz

Roman Lutz  Identity Verified
Germany
Local time: 07:51
English to German
+ ...
Mar 2, 2015

Dear all,

lately, I have been wondering about the liability translators face when they issue a certified translation.

When working through an agency, one can usually rely on the safety net they provide; however, I am wondering: when I provide a CERTIFIED translation through angency, who will be liable in case the translation contains any material errors which lead to financial loss (or even injury)?

I am inclined to assume that the liability would shift to me as the translator confirming the translations' completeness and accuracy, but I would love to hear from my fellow sworn translators on here what their experiences are. Are there any precedents of translators being sued for providing a faulty certified translation, and if so, what was the outcome?

Thanks in advance for all contributions!


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Thomas T. Frost  Identity Verified
Member (2014)
French to Danish
+ ...
Why just certified translations? Mar 2, 2015

I'm no legal specialist, but why should the liability question be any different for any other type of translation? A simple example: a manual or other technical document for gas equipment containing an error that makes the device blow up and kill a person due to incorrect use described in the translation.

The basic principle of civil law is that a business or person can be held liable for any loss that occurs as a result of negligence. Software licence conditions are stuffed full of disclaimers to the effect that the software provider cannot be held liable for any loss, but some legal systems could define that such disclaimers are null and void in certain cases. Even if it goes through an agency, the agency could still have a claim against the translator.

Depending on how much damage a translation error could cause, it would be wise for translators to consider having professional civil liability insurances.


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Roman Lutz  Identity Verified
Germany
Local time: 07:51
English to German
+ ...
TOPIC STARTER
Agencies Mar 2, 2015

That is why I mentioned the "safety net" agencies provide; usually, if you provide a translation via an agency, the agency will be liable, not the translator (at least at first glance)

However, by furnishing your seal and stamp, you establish a direct connection between your name and the translation, and I would imagine that a client who incurred a loss would take legal action against you, the translator, rather than the agency in that case.

I do have insurance for these cases, but I would like to gain a little insight from people who are experienced in this topic.


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Tina Vonhof  Identity Verified
Canada
Local time: 23:51
Member (2006)
Dutch to English
+ ...
Risks vs. benefits Mar 2, 2015

Even if there are no precedents of translators being sued, it may be wise to have liability insurance. I doubt that an agency could be held liable for a translation YOU have certified. However, just like with any other insurance, you need to weigh the risks and benefits as they apply to your own situation. If you do a lot of certified translations, and particularly if they are legal or medical documents, I would recommend it.







[Edited at 2015-03-02 16:18 GMT]


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Henry Hinds  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 23:51
English to Spanish
+ ...
No need for insurance Mar 2, 2015

For years this subject of translators' professional liability insurance has been coming up, and for years I have been replying by asking if anyone knows of any case in which a translator has been sued for liability. Well, does anyone know of such a case?

So far there has been NO INDICATION THAT IT HAS EVER HAPPENED.

Thus I would conclude that such insurance is totally unneccesary and a rip-off if you can get it.


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Sheila Wilson  Identity Verified
Spain
Local time: 06:51
Member (2007)
English
+ ...
Why doesn't the agency certify them? Mar 2, 2015

That's what I've never understood. Surely, they are the ones with a contract with the client; they are the ones providing the service to said client; they are the ones with a network of translators and proofreaders. Surely they should be certifying the translations that they deliver. Otherwise they are adding nothing of any value to the relationship apart from acting as a broker. One would expect that in that case they'll only be adding a small (10% or so) mark-up on our fees. Ha - fat chance!

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RobinB  Identity Verified
Germany
Local time: 07:51
German to English
Speak to professional association Mar 2, 2015

Roman,

You appear to be located here in Germany, so you’re presumably aware of the very strict rules here governing “certification”, which of course can only be done by sworn translators. As only legal documents may be required to be certified, it’s hardly likely that any injury will result from them, though financial loss is certainly a possibility. Professional associations such as BDÜ, ADÜNord, or ATICOM will be able to inform you about the personal liability of sworn translators (I rather think it’s unlimited), if you weren’t already told about that when you did the now compulsory legal prep course.

As agencies can’t certify translations under German law (only a named sworn translator can do that), their liability is very limited in such cases.

As far as sworn translators being sued is concerned, I suggest again that you contact your professional association.

In case you’re certifying translations for clients outside Germany, you’ll have to look to the law in the destination country.

Robin


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JL01  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 01:51
English to French
+ ...
Well said Mar 2, 2015

Robin:

Perfectly summed up. I don't think there is anything else to add.


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JL01  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 01:51
English to French
+ ...
+1 Mar 2, 2015

Agreed. This issue has been beaten to death, at least in the United States.

Henry Hinds wrote:

For years this subject of translators' professional liability insurance has been coming up, and for years I have been replying by asking if anyone knows of any case in which a translator has been sued for liability. Well, does anyone know of such a case?

So far there has been NO INDICATION THAT IT HAS EVER HAPPENED.

Thus I would conclude that such insurance is totally unneccesary and a rip-off if you can get it.


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Charlie Bavington  Identity Verified
Local time: 06:51
French to English
Same answer as before Mar 2, 2015

Henry Hinds wrote:

For years this subject of translators' professional liability insurance has been coming up, and for years I have been replying by asking if anyone knows of any case in which a translator has been sued for liability. Well, does anyone know of such a case?

So far there has been NO INDICATION THAT IT HAS EVER HAPPENED.

Thus I would conclude that such insurance is totally unneccesary and a rip-off if you can get it.


You said something very similar on September 6th last year, and I replied that yes, I had.
http://www.proz.com/forum/getting_established/274342-recommended_professional_insurance.html#2337574


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LegalTransform  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 01:51
Member (2002)
Spanish to English
+ ...
The problem with liability insurance is that you have... Mar 3, 2015

..to read the fine print. For example, some liability insurance policies stipulate that in order for the insurance company to take responsibility, any claims have to be submitted to the insurance company from the outset (there was a newspaper article about this I think about a translator who purchased insurance, tried to negotiate an issue with the client and then the insurance wouldn't cover him). Meaning that any attempt to rectify a problem on your own with the client (perhaps before you realize the scope of the issue), voids the insurance. In other words, any time the client/agency has a problem with your translation, no matter how small, you have to go directly through the insurance company first or else you may not be able to later take advantage of the insurance coverage.


Thomas Frost wrote:

Depending on how much damage a translation error could cause, it would be wise for translators to consider having professional civil liability insurances.



[Edited at 2015-03-03 01:01 GMT]


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Preston Decker  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 01:51
Member (2013)
Chinese to English
What about incorporating instead? Mar 3, 2015

Correct me if I'm wrong, but doesn't incorporating/registering your business accomplish most of what we want liability insurance to? Most translators seem to buy liability insurance mainly because they're worried about the one in a hundred thousand chance that a single translation mistake results in a million dollar lawsuit that takes with it their house and savings. By incorporating, at least in the US, you should in theory be able to separate your personal assets from your business assets. The only catch is that a claimant might be able to 'pierce the corporate veil' by claiming that for a freelance translator there is no difference between their business assets and individual assets--as I understand it, keeping your business accounts separate from personal accounts, keeping company records, etc., can apparently help to avoid this. Would love to hear thoughts about this from anyone who has incorporated.

http://www.nolo.com/legal-encyclopedia/personal-liability-piercing-corporate-veil-33006.html


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LEXpert  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 00:51
Member (2008)
Croatian to English
+ ...
Incorporation provides little protection Mar 3, 2015

Preston Decker wrote:

Correct me if I'm wrong, but doesn't incorporating/registering your business accomplish most of what we want liability insurance to?


Actually, no. As has been explained both in an article by in the Chronicle a while back, and in numerous other resources, the corporate shield doesn't work that way. For example, virtually all independent doctors, dentists, and even lawyers are incorporated, and yet still carry liability insurance far in excess of their corporate assets. Why do they bother if they are incorporated?

Incorporation protects the shareholders from certain general business liabilities, most notably debts (unless it can be proven the incorporation is just a sham), but you are always liable for your own personal negligence/wrongdoing. Say you send your employee "Jack" in the company car to pick something up from a customer. Jack drives recklessly and seriously injures a pedestrian. Jack can be sued, your company can be sued (under agency law), but - generally - you cannot be sued personally. But if *you* are the one driving instead of Jack, you most definitely can and will be sued.

Therefore, incorporation provides very little protection if you commit a negligent act as the sole shareholder/employee of your own company.

A better strategy, if you have significant assets (house, e.g.) is probably to put them in a trust.


[Edited at 2015-03-03 07:57 GMT]


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Henry Hinds  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 23:51
English to Spanish
+ ...
Charlie Mar 3, 2015

You're right, Charlie, I never did see your response. Then again, would the suit against the translator have been sucessful? That definitely is the first positive answer I've seen. Still, I would maintain that professional liability is not an issue, since the client should also be responsible for verifying accuracy. In fact, in such a case a client's neglect could even cause inaccuracies.

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Charlie Bavington  Identity Verified
Local time: 06:51
French to English
Hmmmm Mar 3, 2015

Henry Hinds wrote:

You're right, Charlie, I never did see your response. Then again, would the suit against the translator have been sucessful? That definitely is the first positive answer I've seen. Still, I would maintain that professional liability is not an issue, since the client should also be responsible for verifying accuracy. In fact, in such a case a client's neglect could even cause inaccuracies.


Hmmmm, dunno. If I order a publication-ready turnkey translation into say, Japanese (as a language I'd have difficulty even entering into an online translation tool to see if the gist was right), surely I'm entitled to expect that a full, soup-to-nuts service is provided. The service provider should do the checking, get as many pairs of eyes as it needs. You don't buy a dog and bark yourself. I don't check what my car mechanic has done. I ask for a service; I get a service. And so on. The whole point of us is that clients (end clients) often aren't in a position to check accuracy.

Case by case basis and all that, but I wouldn't dream of assuming the end client always takes final responsibility.

I don't always like insurance (even though I translate tons of it per year!) and I'm sure I've paid out far more in total premiums over the years than I would have paid out to make good the damage on the few claims I have made (if you see what I mean!). I can understand people not having PLI on the grounds they fancy the odds. But by the same token, I have to object when the claim (!) is made that the odds are 100% in the translator's favour because it never happens. It does It might be rare, but it does.
Stay well
Charlie


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