Do Insurers Need to Get a Translator
for Non-English-Speaking Claimants?

Legal Translation Services for Claims Adjusters in Any Language and English

There’s an increased demand for legal translation services for insurance claims adjusters and attorneys who represent them. Insurance claims can be tricky things. There are countless obstacles to getting all the facts right the first time in a claims investigation.  There is always the possibility of misrepresentation on the insured’s part, or misunderstanding on the insurance company’s part. There are witnesses to be consulted, and there are legal constraints on the insurance company with regard to bad faith practices in handling claims. In short, insurances claims are fraught with pitfalls, particularly in an atmosphere where an insured has perhaps suffered a catastrophic injury or loss.

Now, add one more layer of uncertainty onto the insurance claims process by considering an insured who has difficulty speaking, or cannot speak, English. Not surprisingly, you have a situation that is not for the faint of heart.

Not to fear, however. There is a way that you can protect your company or your client and handle a claim with a non-English speaker with grace and ease. In fact, if you consult All Language Alliance, Inc. at 303-470-9555, we can make the process easier than you think.

Insurance Claims Translations- the Good Faith Test for Insurance Companies

As a threshold matter, we need to discuss what is expected of insurance companies when it comes to handling insurance claims. Insurance companies need to act in good faith at all times in connection with the insurance policies they write.

Essentially, all insurance policies are contracts; and all contracts have something called an implied duty of good faith and fair dealing. The duty of good faith is read into every contract by operation of law and does not need to be a clause in the contract, hence the phrase “implied duty.” Simply put, the duty of good faith is automatically applied to every contract.

The implied duty of good faith and fair dealing is, as you would expect, a duty on each party to a contract to behave fairly, equitably, and in good faith. A violation of the duty of good faith under a contract could result in the contract being voided, or in releasing the party victimized by bad faith behavior from having to perform on the contract.

In insurance policy terms, if the insured makes a claim under a policy, and the claim turns out to be a lie, then the insurance company is not obligated to perform under the policy, i.e., does not have to pay out the claim. By the same token, if the insurance company does something in bad faith regarding a policy, the insured will be able to get damages from the insurance company.

Who Has the Obligation to Provide Translators and Interpreters for Non-English Speaking Claimants?

With an understanding of the implied duty of good faith and fair dealing under our belt, let us turn to the non-English speaking insured. With a non-English speaking insured, a number of questions immediately come to mind:

• Who has the obligation to translate something for a non-English-speaking insured under principles of good faith and fair dealing, the insurance company or the insured?
• To what extent must the insurance company ensure that the non-English-speaking insured understands the terms of the policy?
• Is it bad faith to rely on the insured to get proper translations of insurance documents?

There is some case law on those questions. For example, in one Pennsylvania case (Pak v. Alea London Limited (MD Penn 2009)), the insurer recognized that the insured had difficulty with English. Rather than try to translate for the insured, the insurer continued to communicate with the insured in English. When the insured moved to dismiss the insured’s lawsuit on summary judgment, the court denied the motion. The court found that the company’s choice to communicate exclusively in English, fully knowing the insured’s problem with the language, was a reason to have a trial on whether the company engaged in bad faith conduct.

In another case in Arkansas, however, (Toledano v. Shelter Mut. Ins. Co. (WD Ark 2014)), the insurer similarly communicated exclusively in English with an insured who was a non-English speaker. Parting ways with the Pennsylvania decision above, the Arkansas court noted that the insurance policy did not require the company to provide an interpreter. Therefore, it was not bad faith to rely on the insured to employ his own interpreter. The court granted the insurer’s summary judgment motion in that case.

Thus, when an insurer did not provide interpretation services to a non-English speaking insured, Pennsylvania saw enough bad faith to allow a trial on the merits, whereas, Arkansas saw no bad faith at all.

Better Safe Than Sorry – Have An Interpreter On Hand For Your Insureds

On the question of whether it is bad faith for an insurance company to refuse interpretation services to an insured who does not understand English, the law is not clear. When courts don’t agree, or when the state of the law is murky, a good rule of thumb is to be “better safe than sorry.”

Accordingly, it makes good business sense for insurance companies to have legal translation services available by phone and in person, just in case there is a situation with a non-English speaking insured. While you may think that legal translation services are cumbersome or expensive, think again. The legal translation services available to you are cost effective, and will save your company money in the long run.

Indeed, the cost of an interpreter to make sure that your insured understands a policy and the claims process on the front end will avoid the massive cost of litigation that will happen at the back end without an interpreter. Even if a court agrees that your company should not provide an interpreter, it is very expensive to engage in that litigation.

Learn more about your legal translation of insurance claims documents with All Language Alliance, Inc. We provide top-notch document translation services in any language you need, and supply court interpreters for depositions and recorded statements and medical interpreters for IMEs and doctor appointments in any foreign language, including Korean, Russian, Spanish, Bengali, Arabic, Somali, Thai, Mandarin, Vietnamese, Romanian, Polish, Farsi, Filipino.

**This translation blog post should not be construed as legal advice. You should always consult an attorney regarding your specific legal needs.

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