Christian Denzer, Managing Director, MG Denzer GmbH Christian Denzer, Managing Director, MG Denzer GmbH
Jul 30

LANGUAGE INDUSTRY TALKING POINT: WHAT IS A PUBLIC LIABILITY CLAIM?

Freelance interpreters, translators and translation companies are often advised to purchase professional indemnity insurance to protect their business, writes Christian Denzer, Managing Director, MG Denzer GmbH. There is no question that this is the most common type of claim resulting from work carried out by language industry professionals. Overlooking a single, missing letter can be enough to render an expensive, glossy brochure useless, because it can’t be sent out to customers like that.

However, public liability damages actually poses the greater danger to the livelihoods of individual linguists and translation companies.

Discussions about public liability tend to centre around whether customers will come to your office or whether you intend to visit your customers on site. 

In the vast majority of cases, clients and interpreters/translators and translation companies communicate with one another digitally, meaning there is not much reason to worry about bodily injury or property damage. 

A case of property damage might be if you knock a glass of cherry juice onto a white sofa. A vivid example, and, admittedly mortifying, were this accident to occur at your first meeting with a new client!

But this type of damage rarely poses a threat to the responsible party’s livelihood – even without insurance coverage, the resulting damages can be covered.

The situation looks rather different if technical translations are being produced. Here is a case study to illustrate how important it is to have proper cover.

For Paul H. landing a contract with a major supplier of aeroplane components to translate the operating instructions for their latest aeroplane model was a masterstroke! 

He had purchased a professional indemnity insurance policy years ago to cover his business activities, but up until recently he had ignored offers of additional coverage for bodily injury or property damage, confident that there was no need.

Case study

But he gained a better understanding of the issue during a recent conversation with an insurance broker who specialises in the language services industry. As a result, Paul H. decided to purchase the optional cover since the additional premium for freelancers with this insurer amounted to a flat fee of just €50. 

The new job proceeded without a hitch, and he was able to meet all his deadlines. Paul H.’s client was exceptionally satisfied with his work and paid the agreed fee by wire transfer. 

The operating instructions were then printed and sent to production facilities at five different locations responsible for manufacturing the aeroplane. The aeroplane components were produced exactly according to the strict instructions provided by the production company, following the operating instructions provided to the letter.

Because the individual components produced by the various locations were only finally assembled by the aeroplane manufacturer directly, the error in the operating instructions was not discovered until the end of the entire process. Incorrect measurements (an error in converting inches to centimetres) provided in the operating instructions resulted in individual components not fitting together as intended, which meant production had to be stopped. 

According to the contract between Paul H. and the aeroplane component supplier, Paul H. was entirely responsible for the final editing and proofreading, and therefore also responsible for checking the measurements. 

His client demands compensation for the damages caused by his work (489 incorrectly produced turbine components at €1,336.02 net or a total €653,313.78) and for the resulting financial losses (costs related to production downtime, work stoppage, etc.).

Paul H. was simply unable to cover the demanded costs for losses and damages. However, had he not decided to purchase a public liability insurance policy, as recommended, the costs related to property damages and financial losses would not have been covered. In addition, in the event of a covered claim the insurer would also examine the defence against unjustified claims for Paul H. without him having to appoint his own lawyer to represent his interests in court.

Let’s not even think about the damages that could have resulted had Paul H. accepted a job translating the operating instructions for a high-frequency laser for performing eye surgery which subsequently resulted in harm being done to numerous patients by doctors who were following incorrect instructions!