Lesson 32: No translator has ever been sued, so translator’s professional indemnity insurance is a waste of money

Lesson 32: No translator has ever been sued, so translator’s professional indemnity insurance is a waste of money

I’m generally a healthy person. But just because I haven’t broken anything yet, I won’t give up my medical cover. Why? I could save so much money every month! Or take a car. If you haven’t had an accident yet, why on Earth would you pay for your insurance? Same with translation. If no-one ever heard of a translator being sued, it means that it will never happen and we don’t need any translator’s professional indemnity insurance. Logical, isn’t it?

Well, not really. This fallacious thinking could be dangerous in case of our health, or car, or even translation. However, a shocking number of translators use this precise argument: if it hasn’t happened to anyone, it means that it never will.
Here are my arguments why we should get professional indemnity insurance.

Peace of mind

First and foremost, we don’t want to be even more stressed. At least we know that whatever happens, we’re covered. Apparently, a lot of interpreters strongly believe that professional indemnity is essential. Why? Because if they participate in multi-million negotiations they simply wouldn’t be able to sleep properly for a couple of days after the assignment.

Accept responsibility

No-one (hopefully) makes mistakes on purpose. But we have to accept the fact that we’re just humans and something can go wrong. In that case, it is our responsibility to react and redress the loss. For the very same reasons building owners are insured against falling tiles. Nothing they can take control over, but they accept their responsibility.

Lost documents and confidentiality

Imagine that you’re translated the file, and your laptop was stolen overnight. You’re not able to re-translate the files within the deadline. Offer an apology, but you’d better be covered in case of serious problems. Confidentiality is becoming more of an issue as well, especially with Google and ever-present indexing. Why take the risks?

Professionalism

I specialise in law and business, and I know that my insurance is an added value for my clients. In terms of working with law firms, they do start co-operation with asking you for insurance. During one of business courses I attended I’ve been told that anyone who would like to provide professional services should get insurance. Good practice!

Marketing matters

We’re all trying to figure out how to be better than our competitors, and how to attract more clients. I thought that if I had a choice between an insured accountant and one without any cover (can they do that, by the way?), I wouldn’t hesitate for too long. And I have a feeling that some direct clients may think the same in terms of translation.

Insurance seems to be an important issue if you work for direct clients. But what about agencies? We would like to assume that if we work for an agency, it will be its responsibility when things go wrong. But this is not always the case. Some agencies, in their terms and conditions or agreements, include a part where they cunningly shift the responsibility to get insurance on their “suppliers” (meaning: translators). If we’re dealing with more honest agencies, they will require their translators to be insured openly and overtly. And some agencies don’t care.
For further reading, here’s a link to a blog post on this topic by the Translation Journal and an academic article on the translator’s responsibilities and liability in the Journal of Specialised Translation.

What are your views? Have you ever heard of a translator being sued? Do you think that insurance is necessary? Do you need to have insurance in your country?

26 Comments

  1. Lisa Carter , on Apr 18, 2012 at 12:13 Reply

    Great points, Marta. When I’m looking over my business expenses each tax year, I sometimes wonder whether it’s worth hanging on to this professional liability insurance. I’ve only been asked about insurance once, for a job I never actually got (because the client had unrealistic expectations for turnaround times). But then I get a project from one of my favourite private clients that deals with huge sums of money, and I breathe a sigh of relief that I kept that insurance after all! As you say, hopefully we’ll never have to use it — but what if we did?!

    • Marta Stelmaszak , on Apr 19, 2012 at 08:36 Reply

      Hi Lisa, thanks for your comment! Same here: I’d rather have it when not needed than not have it when getting into troubles. And I really believe that it adds value with law firms!

  2. Carolyn Yohn , on Apr 18, 2012 at 13:38 Reply

    I guess I had never really thought about this so much… You make some great points in favor of becoming insured! Just out of curiosity, does anyone have a preferred source of this type of insurance? Are there any (US-based) insurers I should maybe avoid?

    • Marta Stelmaszak , on Apr 19, 2012 at 08:38 Reply

      Carolyn, I’ve heard of an interpreter insured to cover $15,000,000. Just in case 🙂 High profile business interpreting…

      You may want to check if ATA doesn’t have a suggested or preferred supplier. Our organisations here in the UK have special deals with insurance companies. It may be the case in the USA as well.

  3. Marina Sandoval , on Apr 18, 2012 at 17:47 Reply

    Hi Marta,

    A case like this happened here in Brazil. I don’t remember all the details, but the translator were translating a contract and she wrote the wrong sum of money, to make it short: she putted some more zeros by mistake and she was sued and at the end she had to paid a lot of money.

    You make some really good points about insurance, I will think about it 😉

    Marina

    • Marina Sandoval , on Apr 18, 2012 at 17:49 Reply

      Ops, see I made a mistake there “the translator was” hehe, sorry 🙂

    • Marta Stelmaszak , on Apr 19, 2012 at 08:39 Reply

      Wow, Marina, you’re actually the first person who knows someone who has been sued! Let’s try to find more examples of that. Hopefully, that will convince more of us to get insured.

  4. Szymon Metkowski , on Apr 19, 2012 at 08:50 Reply

    I know actually about two cases of a translator being sued for low quality work. One of them happened in Germany (translator (he), who was responsible for proofreading misplaced the dates on a calender – whole lot had to be printed again). The other was held here, in Poland. I don’t know the details apart from that a translator (she) had been sued for money to cover the losses because of bad quality translation.

    • Marta Stelmaszak , on Apr 19, 2012 at 08:56 Reply

      Thanks for your input, Szymon! That’s actually pretty interesting. I haven’t heard about cases like that in the UK, which is quite surprising, as we like suing and litigating, similarly to the US.

  5. Tolken , on Apr 19, 2012 at 12:58 Reply

    Hi Marta!
    Here’s my full story. It was too long for 140 signs or a comment 🙂
    But conclusion is: YES pay your insurance!

    http://interpreter.blogs.se/2012/04/19/why-i-keep-paying-my-insurance-13542935/

    • Marta Stelmaszak , on Apr 23, 2012 at 21:48 Reply

      Hi, thanks for writing up a whole post in response! It’s really interesting, but the agency had nothing to support their claim. Still proves that insurance = peace of mind!

  6. Lucia , on Apr 19, 2012 at 15:53 Reply

    Hi Marta, I entirely agree with you, following Wilde, who said: it’s better to do smt and then regret than to regret for not having done…!!! I’m new in the field, what kind of insurance do you advice?? Who with??

    • Marta Stelmaszak , on Apr 23, 2012 at 21:49 Reply

      Thanks for your comment, Lucia! You may want to try with your local translation association, as they usually offer deals and discounts.

  7. Anna Jenman , on Apr 21, 2012 at 08:38 Reply

    I agree, I think the chief benefit of having the right cover in place is peace of mind, but I wouldn’t undertake any legal or medical work without insurance. UK translators who are members of the Chartered Institute of Linguists can get good deals on professional indemnity insurance designed specifically for the needs of translators which is rare.

    • Marta Stelmaszak , on Apr 23, 2012 at 21:52 Reply

      Thanks for your comment, Anna. It’s particularly true with medical and legal, you’re right. But also in business, people may want to sue you for tiny issues.

      I do like the CIoL’s offer, but I’d like to compare it with what the ITI suggests. Anybody has any comments on that?

  8. Goncharova , on Apr 24, 2012 at 00:39 Reply

    There is also the school of thought (here in the litigous US), that lawyers only go after “deep pockets” in almost all such lawsuits. If you have Errors and Omissions Insurance, you are almost guaranteed of being sued.

    If you do not have such insurance, they won’t waste their time with you……or they will sue (and sometimes win) but they would not be able to collect a large settlement.

    • Marta Stelmaszak , on Jan 4, 2015 at 23:13 Reply

      But is it better to have insurance and get sued or not to have it and get sued? 😉

  9. John Kinory , on Apr 27, 2012 at 15:26 Reply

    “We would like to assume that if we work for an agency, it will be its responsibility when things go wrong. But this is not always the case. Some agencies, in their terms and conditions or agreements, include a part where they cunningly shift the responsibility to get insurance on their “suppliers” (meaning: translators).” –

    This argument is meaningless in terms of business/commercial law. As far as I am concerned, the agency is my client. That’s who my contract is with. Who they sell my translation to once I’ve sold it to them, is none of my business. My PII relates to my dealings with them, not their dealings with their own client.

    John

    • Marta Stelmaszak , on Jan 4, 2015 at 23:21 Reply

      I believe it’s better safe than sorry in any case 😉

  10. John Kinory , on Apr 27, 2012 at 15:30 Reply

    “I haven’t heard about cases like that in the UK, which is quite surprising, as we like suing and litigating, similarly to the US” –

    litigation in the UK is not even remotely at the level of the USA (my wife used to be a senior executive for a huge multinational, both in the USA and the UK).
    I do know, however anecdotally, of a UK translator being sued for some serious errors that resulted in a coffee table book having to be reprinted.
    The policy offered by the ITI’s former recommended insurer is excellent value, imo.

    • John Kinory , on Apr 27, 2012 at 15:34 Reply

      PS. But I have been told by an insurance industry insider that in the UK, claims against translators are pretty few and far between. Hence the low premiums.

  11. Lukasz Gos , on Mar 11, 2013 at 13:49 Reply

    Insurance can give you peace of mind, pretty much the same way as having a lawyer on your retainer. It’s basically one less thing worry about that way. Get your insurance, disclose the sum, cap damages at that sum in your contract, and that’s already quite some leverage, given that most damage caps equal the price agreed for the work, even with agencies. Doesn’t mean you shouldn’t revise your ToS, still. A good ToS should preclude a couple of typical frivolous lawsuit grounds if only because quite a lot of people don’t have a clue as to what works and what doesn’t work and an obviously unmeritorious or outright inadmissible lawsuit is still a bother, and potentially a stink. For the record, insurance allows you to settle, although you insurer might not turn out to be the biggest fan of that decision. Also, if you have a good client who is a lawyer, I’m pretty sure he could give you a discount or even do it free of charge or for a courtesy link, if it’s a short one. And should be short because long ToSes are scary.

  12. Jacqueline Breuer , on Jan 16, 2015 at 07:25 Reply

    Hi Marta,
    it once happened to me to be sued (approx. 25 years ago). Situation was quite typical (well-known by all of us) – Job content: translation of a 4 page flyer – not much text! (highly technical but also advertising style) for a trade show – the time window for translation, check by a colleague (4 eye principle) much too small, no final proof read of the pre printed flyer (as the whole project was in delay) – finally client did not respect my advice to make check its subsidiary in the target language country the advertising effectiveness of my Translation. Well besides typical and numerous setting errors (by the printer) one translation error (me!) and mostly style defects (advertising effectiveness missing), the 4 colour high gloss flyer had to be corrected and re-printed for all following Shows. However, the client wanted me to pay all costs for reprint (18.000 EURO approx.). From the very beginning, I have an insurance (I even have numerous insurances for various types of catastrophes that may happen to a translator – never needed one of them but am happy to know, that I am protected in case if). However in that case my insurance company checked by an expert the case at the end they paid 1/3 of the “damage” as the client had a co-responsibility – I only paid 150 € of deductible. I I had no insurance I had to pay the lawyer costs, expertise costs, and a lot more and most probably much more than only 150 €. Since that incident I always signal in writing in every order confirmation to clients that I only do technical translation, for checking advertising effectiveness it is him the responsible one and that proof read of the pre-print version is inevitable.
    Jackie

    • Marta Stelmaszak , on Jan 16, 2015 at 15:30 Reply

      Thank you, Jacqueline, for sharing your story, I’m glad your insurance helped you survive. I think this reinforces the idea that it’s best to be as secure as you can, both in relation to the clients and the translations.

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