Mistranslations Can Become a Legal Liability

Dynamic Language | March 6, 2017
mistranslations can be a legal liabilityIn today’s increasingly diverse world of fast-paced international business, it’s become common to wonder whether information needs to be translated into multiple languages. This is even more important in the legal industry.

Businesses should ask whether they should retain a professional translation service. For instance, courts have previously ruled that employers who have not provided translated documents (such as employee handbooks) that describe central rights or particular employment policies have not given their employees meaningful access to this information. By not having such information in place, these employers face the risk of increased liability when an employee claims not to have been aware of a policy that was designed to protect them. Also, it is important that legal documents are translated by a professional, as mistranslations can become a legal liability.

The only way to ensure the accuracy and quality of a translation is to employ the use of professional translation services. Otherwise, when important documents are misinterpreted or translation errors occur due to inaccurate software, a business can suffer significant liability. For instance, medical facilities that have not used professional interpreters or have not had their consent forms professionally translated have previously been sued for medical malpractice. Even if a medical facility requires that their patients sign consent forms before completing certain medical treatment, they need to be in a language easily understood by the patient or the patient’s family. Otherwise, a jury may conclude that the patients were not properly informed and, as such, could not provide necessary consent. 

Translations May Be Required By Law

In some cases, not providing a translation can be a violation of the law. Courts have continuously outlawed policies that make certain tests only available in the English language. Additionally, the federal government has instituted guidelines for Limited English Proficient (LEP) individuals. Private entities that receive federal funds may be in violation of the law if they do not make a concerted effort to provide materials in translated forms. Being in violation of LEP guidelines can mean that a business faces stiff civil penalties.

Translations Can Affect Court Proceedings

Professional translations are also important during the litigation process. For instance, civil cases have been lost when witnesses gave affidavits that were not properly translated. As such, they could not be considered part of the court record.

The need for translation services is so widespread that courts often have specific rules related to the use of professional interpreters and translators. For instance, professional interpreters often must pass rigorous exams and standards before they can provide testimony during a court case from the person on the witness stand.

Additionally, various states have crafted jury instructions that explain how evidence presented in another language must be assessed. For example, jury instructions may state that the jury will listen to an audio recording in another language and that they will receive a transcript of the recording. They may also be instructed to only consider the translation provided in the transcript, even if they understand the source language. If such transcripts are not made available to the jury, they may not be able to consider the evidence. Likewise, some state court rules do not permit evidence to be admitted if a certified translation does not accompany the document.


These instances underscore the importance of having professional translations completed before a case ever makes its way to court. Skipping this step can very well cost you the entire case. Whether you need legal, medical, financial or technical documents translated, we have the resources available to deliver accurate and high-quality translations of your important documents. Learn more about legal translation.



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