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Errors and Omissions Insurance

Also known as E&O insurance, this is coverage available to protect freelance translators against liability for any errors and omissions they may create during the process of translation. The American Translators Association offers E&O insurance through one broker, and there are lots of others out there.

The question, often discussed among newcomers to the profession, is whether or not this insurance is necessary or useful. One query to the Language Realm included the comment that the ATA broker was not returning calls, which may mean that this insurance is not valued even by the people who sell it.

The insurance exists to protect freelance translators against liability for any errors or omission they commit while translating. All independent contractor agreements contain one or more sections about the translator being liable for damages resulting from inaccurate or incomplete translations. In practice, the insurance is not very expensive, and in reality, translators make mistakes. So E&O insurance may seem reasonable.

But there are two basic questions here. Is E&O insurance necessary? And is E&O insurance useful?

The first question is answered by clients, whose needs must be respected and serviced by freelancers. If a client wants its translators to have E&O insurance, then the translators either have to have the insurance or have to negotiate their way out of the requirement. Many translators do just that, informing the client that they do not carry such a policy and have no plans to do so. Many clients then simply accept the translator as is, though some insist the translator get such insurance before any work can begin.

However, this is rare. Most translation agencies and companies in the U.S. do not expect or require freelance translators to carry E&O insurance. An examination of the expectations of approximately 100 translation agencies and companies currently or recently in business found that none of them required E&O insurance.

So if hardly any translation agency wants its translators to have E&O insurance, is having it useful? The attorneys I have asked about this all agree that E&O insurance for translators or interpreters is useless. A summary of their view is as follows.

• Translators work on a “good faith, best effort” policy that requires trust and cooperation from both parties

• Proving an error or omission was the translator’s fault, and not that of an editor, proofreader, or somebody else, would be challenging and difficult

• Lawsuits are ultimately about money, nothing more or less, and since agency would be interested in recovering perceived damages, translators make poor targets, since they generally have very little money

The final point cannot be overstressed. Damages, real or perceived, are what companies of any sort are looking to recover when they start a lawsuit. One attorney pointed out that carrying E&O insurance could make a translator more likely to be sued, because there would be a possibility of a significant payout. However, despite 15 years of actively searching for a translator who has been sued in this manner has yet to turn up one.

Most importantly though is the basic idea that translation is a process, and the translator performs only one task in the process. Different individuals and organizations quantify this process into ten or even twelve steps, but the salient point is that the translator is only one step. Therefore, as the attorneys explained, the translator cannot in practice be held wholly and entirely liable for errors or omissions. Doing so would be like holding one engineer entirely responsible for the failure of a car.

In the real world, no one wants to deal with a lawsuit. Translation errors and omissions are caught by editors and proofreaders, who either on their own or in consultation with the translator make the appropriate corrections. It is that simple in most cases.

Naturally, you should consult with an attorney before making any decisions about your business. Also, you have to service your clients, so you may need to carry E&O insurance, even if it is generally regarded as unnecessary. But you do not have to worry about being sued as long as you are making a “good faith, best effort” when you work. That is the key to success as a translator: do good work.

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