Certified Translation of Insurance Policies by Qualified Translators
We’ve blogged about the importance of certified translation of insurance policies, insurance claims, ROR letters, and other correspondence from English into the languages spoken by the Limited English Proficiency insureds. Beginning January 1, 2024, any property and casualty insurance policy or health-care coverage insurance policy that is issued in Colorado in a language other than English must be translated and certified by a qualified translator. Also, any commercial or personal automobile, homeowners’, or renters’ insurance policy that is issued or advertised in Colorado must be translated into the language of choice of the applicant or insured.
Many other states regulate insurance companies in terms of the language in which the policies must be written or advertised to a limited extent. For example, much like Colorado’s current statute, Kentucky Revised Statute § 304.14-435 permits insurance companies to issue policies in languages other than English and requires certification of any translations. Alaska Statute § 21.42.175 allows for non-English translations of insurance policies and associated materials but provides that they are purely informational. Utah Code § 31A-21-112 permits policies to be advertised and issued in non-English if translated by an employee or a translator chosen by the insured. South Carolina Statute § 38-61-60 allows an insurance company to advertise in languages other than English and translate certain documents but requires that the policies only be made available in English. Other than Colorado, California may be the most expansive state by requiring under California Insurance Code § 12935 that information sheets for automobile and pickup truck liability insurance policies be made available to the public in the two most common languages spoken in California, which are Spanish and Vietnamese.
Under §§ 10133.8 – 10133.10, California also requires an assessment of language needs for certain populations of insured and requires specific documents to be translated into non-English based on those assessed needs. But Colorado’s new law–2023 Colo. Legis. Serv. Ch. 64 (H.B. 23-1004)—passed in April 2023, is the first in the country to mandate the certified translation of the actual insurance policies into languages other than English.
So, of what significance is Colorado’s new law for insurance companies in Colorado? Is Colorado’s law going to open the floodgates of stricter translation requirements for insurance companies in other states? To answer these questions, let’s look at what Colorado’s law actually requires and see how unique Colorado’s new law is compared to what other states already allow.
What Is Colorado’s Current Law on Translating Insurance Policies from English to Other Languages?
Colorado Statute § 10-1-136
Colorado’s current law on translating insurance policies written in English to other foreign languages is Colorado Statute § 10-1-136 (Insurance policies–language other than English), which remains in effect until December 31, 2023. Section 10-1-136 provides:
(1) An insurer may conduct transactions in a language other than English.
(2) An insurer authorized to offer insurance in this state may provide insurance policies, endorsements, riders, and any explanatory or advertising materials in a language other than English. If an insurer opts to provide an insurance policy, endorsement, or rider to the customer in a language other than English, the insurer must also provide the English version at the same time. In the event of a dispute or complaint regarding the insurance or advertising materials, the English language version of the insurance document controls the resolution of the dispute or complaint.
(3) A non-English language policy delivered or issued for delivery in Colorado is deemed to be in compliance with articles 4 and 16 of this title if the insurer certifies that the policy is translated from an English language policy that is in compliance with this title. An insurer shall maintain copies of all translated policies, endorsements, riders, and any explanatory or advertising materials and make them available for review by the commissioner upon request.
So, what the current law provides is simple:
(1) An insurance company may supply documents in a language other than English;
(2) The non-English documents it may supply include:
• Insurance policies;
• Riders; and
• Explanatory or advertising materials,
if they are accompanied by their English version; and
(3) If the policy is for property and casualty insurance (under article 4) or health-care coverage (under article 16), then the insurance company must certify that the English policy from which it was translated satisfies the laws for insurance policies in Colorado under Title 10 (Insurance).
What Does Colorado’s New Law Require?
2023 Colo. Legis. Serv. Ch. 64 (H.B. 23-1004) (Colorado Statute § 10-1-136(3)(a))
The new Colorado law taking effect in 2024 simply adds a provision to paragraph (3) of the existing law, § 10-1-136. In addition to certifying that the English insurance policy from which the non-English policy was translated satisfies the laws for insurance policies in Colorado, the new law now requires that if the policy is for property and casualty insurance (under article 4) or health-care coverage (under article 16), then the insurance company must also certify that:
• The non-English policy was translated correctly; and
• The non-English policy was translated by either a certified translator or, if the language is not one for which the American Translators Association certifies translators, by a qualified translator.
So, the 2024 addition to § 10-1-136 does not really add that much in terms of what is required of insurance companies. When an insurance company translates a policy for property and casualty insurance or health-care coverage insurance from English to foreign languages, it must certify that it is translated correctly.
However, another provision—Colorado Statute § 10–3–1119 (Policy documents—language consistent with advertisement for product—definitions) takes a great leap forward in terms of the steps insurance companies now must take to advertise to non-English-speaking communities and enroll insured members for new or renewed policies.
2023 Colo. Legis. Serv. Ch. 64 (H.B. 23-1004) (Colorado Statute § 10–3–1119)
In addition to the new § 10-1-136(3)(a), the new Colorado law adds to the existing law regulating insurance companies by creating Colorado Revised Statute § 10–3–1119. This new provision states that for any commercial or personal automobile, homeowners’, or renters’ insurance policy, an insurance company must offer, make available, and issue the following documents to any applicant or insured in any foreign language that the insurance company used to advertise for the insurance policy:
• The application or interface the applicant uses to apply for, purchase, or receive a quote;
• Any written coverage forms, including rejections or exclusions; and
• The insurance policy, policy declarations page, explanations of benefits, and other policy- or coverage-related documents.
If the insurance company advertises, offers, makes available, or issues any of the named insurance policies in a language other than English, the insurance company also must:
• Offer someone applying for a new or renewed policy a form to select their language of choice; and
• Provide the offer and the form in every foreign language in which the insurer advertises, offers, makes available, or issues its insurance policies.
If the applicant returns the form with a selected choice of language, the insurance company must provide the insurance documents in the language the applicant selected. If the applicant does not return the form with a selected language within sixty (60) days, the insurance company may provide the documents in English.
The new law does put the onus on the non-English applicant or insured to “opt-in” to the law by designating a language of choice within sixty days. But if the insurance company does not comply, the insured may void any written rejection or exclusion from coverage determined by the insurance company and may recover reasonable attorney fees for reinstating or rewriting the coverage under the new policy. Also, the insured does not have to pay any premiums for the period of the rewritten policy. In this way, not only do insurance companies have to bear the expense of translating all new and renewed insurance policies according to the requests of applicants, but their failure to comply can lead to quite costly coverage without the insured paying any premiums.
What Are the Limitations of Colorado’s New Insurance Policy Translation Requirements?
Colorado’s groundbreaking requirement for the translation of actual insurance policies for non-English applicants does employ a specific limitation common to almost all states that allow for non-English translations. The new law provides that:
Consistent with section 10–1–136(2), in the event of a dispute or complaint regarding an insurance policy, any related documents specified in subsection (1) of this section, or the advertisement for an insurance policy, the English-language version of the insurance policy or related documents controls the resolution of the dispute or complaint.
This means that even if an applicant requests an insurance policy to be translated into a designated non-English language, and even though the translation of the policy may be certified to be correct by a qualified or certified translator, if the translation should lead to any dispute or complaint—perhaps resulting from a language barrier caused by dialect variations or language interpretations—the insurance company’s English version of the dispute is always the prevailing view, which is to say, essentially, the insurance company’s version always wins.
Will Insurance Companies in Other States be Safe or Sorry?
By January 1, 2024, insurance companies in Colorado have a lot of translating to do for automobile, homeowners’, and renters’ insurance policies. Considering that the languages into which these policies must be translated depend entirely on the designation of the applicants, this new law has created what could be a rather arduous task for insurance companies. Colorado insurance companies had better start scheduling certified translation services of all languages prevalent in Colorado.
Given the permissive nature of all other states with respect to the translation of insurance policies, insurance companies in other states are safe for now; the decision of whether or what to translate is, for the most part, up to the insurance companies. But until April 2023, that’s what insurance companies in Colorado thought. Now the decision is up to the non-English-speaking customers. Insurance companies in other states may be safe for now, but if they don’t prepare for their own state legislatures to follow Colorado’s lead and require the translation of insurance policies into other languages, they may be sorry later.
Contact legal translation and interpreting service All Language Alliance, Inc. to obtain certified translation of insurance policies and other pertinent insurance documents into Chinese, Korean, Vietnamese, Thai, Spanish, Amharic, Tigrinya, Armenian, Japanese, Russian, French, Oromo, Portuguese, Low German Mennonite, Mongolian, Hebrew, Nepali, Romanian, Polish, Arabic, Sinhala, Tamil, Persian, and other languages of non-English-speaking insureds; and to hire competent court interpreters to communicate with the Limited English Proficiency insureds.
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