PROFESIONAL LIABILITY INSURANCE IN TRANSLATION
Date created: 29/March/2014
As an experienced and knowledgeable freelance translator I implement preventive procedures in all my translation assignments, to keep under control all foreseeable risks. With this I hope to keep my reputation high, as a trustworthy translator. No insurance policy can replace this, so don’t ask me to get Professional Liability Insurance. If a client needs to increase the risks with a borderline deadline, bypassing the requirements of duty of care, I’ll explain the possible consequences; one will be that I can’t guarantee there won’t be a mistake. Below I describe my requirements for Duty of Care (B).
If a translator has Professional Liability Insurance, you should ask yourself why he needs it. I strive not to need it, or better said, for it to be superfluous.
Causes of damage
The causes of damage to a client due to translation can come from the following issues:
- Delivering an unfit translation (with significant mistakes)
- Not delivering on time (or not at all)
- Not warning a client when the original brings issues which, due to fidelity and accuracy requirements, should be transferred to the translation.
- Failure to protect the required level of confidentiality defined by the client, by acts or omission of duties.
- When translator, while on agreed standby, doesn’t warn his client with due notice that he won’t accept the assignment, leaving the client without a translator.
- When quality assurance procedures are not implemented to check the translation either by the translator or by the client (i.e. revision by in-house or external specialists).
A) These issues can occur due to the following circumstances:
1) The translator is not competent enough (language competence and/or translation competence and/or field competence). This translator can’t - whatever effort he may put into it - comply with the duty of care a client requires.
2) The translator lacks experience or is disorganised (administrative competence).
3) The client won’t or can’t supply information to clarify vague ideas or other issues in the original text.
4) The client won’t or can’t implement further checks (checks before hiring and quality assurance checks).
5) The client is not willing to pay the cost of a translator capable of complying with the duty of care required.
6) Force Majeure situations.
B) All these circumstances can be controlled up to a certain point:
- A translator should not accept a job out of his scope of competencies.
- If the job is borderline, the translator should recognise his areas of weakness and implement procedures to avoid damaging mistakes (i.e. support from a specialist, extra time for proper research into the subject, a reviewer, etc.)
- A translator should not accept tight deadlines or urgencies without warning the client about the risks. There should always be a cushion for contingencies.
- A translator should not deliver an estimate without studying the translation instructions and documents thoroughly.
- Always have in place a set of quality assurance procedures and apply them systematically, however small or big the project.
- If outsourcing to another translator is necessary, make sure you can cope with any quality issues that may arise, including preventive and corrective measures.
- A translator should not overestimate his capacities and/or competencies delivering unrealistic promises.
3) Client support:
- Translator should make the client aware that collaborating to clarify any possible issue shall always be in the client’s best interest. If the client can’t help, and the doubt can’t be solved, it must be marked with an explanatory note till it can be solved.
4) Client’s checks:
- Translator should make the client aware that every translator can make mistakes, although we strive for the perfect translation (sometimes with blood and tears) as we are very aware that our translation becomes a technical document on its own right, so a further review by an in-house or target specialist will always be advisable, even if it’s not for detecting critical mistakes it should always increase quality or readability. If that is not possible, and client informs that in-house checks will not be done, the translator should be given abundant time to check his output intensively, either by himself or another translator (an experienced translator should have tricks, secrets, procedures, contacts, means for tackling difficult terminology and complex wording in his area of expertise, but solutions can take time).
- Translator should make the client aware that a translator’s duty of care requires him, most usually, to proceed carefully, with scrupulous attention to detail, researching translation issues in-depth, checking and cross-checking any doubtful item, consider alternative interpretations so the messages are as accurate as intended (and he must understand what is intended), reviewing the final text once and again in its smallest details and in its comprehensiveness just like the original writer would be expected to do. All this takes time and has a cost. So client and translator shouldn’t get involved in reckless bargaining, like extremely low fees and impossible deadlines. An irresponsible translator will not perform the above procedures when trying to comply with an impossible deadline and the same probably if he is underpaid. A reckless translator might hire insurance to protect himself, due to the probable mistakes which will appear by working under stressful conditions.
6) Force Majeure:
Most force majeure events can’t be avoided, but their effects can be minimised.
- A translator should have in place emergency procedures to override failures in electric supply and internet connection (access to alternative supplies), email failure (contact current and potential clients immediately with alternative email or always use 2 emails for communications), equipment failures (backup equipment and regular backups), accidents and illness (inform the client immediately in case of any disability, and if unable to, have someone else (with knowledge on your procedures) assigned to contact current clients in such cases), etc.
So, if a freelance translator implements the above procedures, as preventive measures, he can avoid most mistakes, specially those which can cause damage, and if he can avoid this type of mistakes he doesn’t need Professional Liability Insurance. A translator risks his reputation in every assignment, a client does also, and the users much more: No insurance can cover the costs involved (legal, health, income and emotional damage). In some cases of human activity there may be no other option than "paying to pollute", but in freelance translation it is not an option.
The situation is very different for a Translation Agency, Translation Company and even teams of translators, where the amount of risk grows with the size of the organisation and its inability to control or supervise everything (focusing on key points, delegating authority and applying controls by sampling); the amount of routes or channels the translation documents must follow; and the outsourcing of services to individuals whose particular circumstances and professional procedures can vary enormously and sometimes can’t be checked appropriately, specially when the outsourcer is not competent in every language he offers. There can be many leak points and they can be very difficult to pinpoint. Organisations of these kinds do require Liability Insurance.
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