Legal Translation of Foreign Insurance Policy
There’s a growing demand for legal translation services for the insurance industry. There are two significant truths that define our world today. First, the world is getting smaller as our international marketplace continues to favor the growth of multinational companies and international franchises. Second, the world is a more dangerous place than it was two decades ago. How do those two notions work together? In a word, insurance.
When dealing with international insurance to cover our cross-border employees, we need good translators and good translations. Indeed, as the old saying goes ‘even a blind man must protect himself from the terms of a contract by having someone read it to him.’
International Insurance for the Modern World
When talking about frightening topics like terrorism, one might think that insurance is the last thing on people’s minds. However, a more dangerous world coupled with an increase in multinational companies means that your company needs to pay attention to issues surrounding international insurance. Indeed, a company’s cross-border operations mean more executives and company personnel working in foreign countries.
With an increase in terrorism and political violence comes the need for certainty in those types of coverage. In fact, nowadays terrorism insurance and political violence insurance are becoming necessary components to coverage rather than subsumed in more general insurance language. Generally, political violence coverage is broader than terrorism insurance because it insures against financial loss due to civil unrest, riots, strikes, armed uprisings, insurrections, and civil wars. Political violence coverage can mitigate the risks when operating in underdeveloped or developing countries.
Given that cross-border insurance claims require some focus, let’s discuss the myriad language-barrier problems that arise.
Insurance Policy in A Foreign Language: Weiss v. La Suisse, (S.D.N.Y. 2001)
With regard to insurance risks abroad, companies will often procure insurance from the foreign countries where their employees will work and reside. Accordingly, problems may arise when an insured is covered by a policy that is written in a foreign language. In that instance the case of Weiss v. La Suisse is instructive.
In that case, a Swiss insurance company, La Suisse, offered so-called marriage insurance. Such insurance provides a benefit once the insured gets married. When La Suisse brought this marriage insurance product from Switzerland to New York State, it focused its marketing efforts on the Chassidic community in New York. A group of Chassidic community members signed on to this marriage insurance through a leader in their community, a person by the name of Horowitz. The insurance policy was written in German, and the 25 or so people who purchased the insurance did not speak that language. Horowitz, however, did speak German, yet was unclear whether Horowitz ever translated the insurance policy for any of the policyholders.
Once a dispute arose with regard to the policy, one of the first disputes had to do with the appropriate choice of law. The policyholders argued that New York law should control as a matter of public policy. Yet, La Suisse maintained that the choice-of-law clause in the policy (which also was largely not shared with the policyholders) specified Swiss law.
The court ultimately decided that Swiss law should control, thereby enforcing the choice-of-law clause. However, what is important for our purposes is the court’s treatment of the fact that the policy was written in German, a language the policyholders did not speak.
In that regard, the court noted that it was “troubled” by the fact that so many policyholders were covered by an insurance contract that they never read and, had they tried, would be indecipherable to them. The court continued, however, that the policyholders could have helped themselves if they so chose. The court expressly noted that it was guided by the ancient maxim that “even a blind man must protect himself by procuring someone to read a contract for him.” Thus, the policyholders could not argue that they could not understand the insurance contract because they were free to have the policy translated from German to English but failed to do so.
Muddled In Translation – Ambiguous Language in Insurance Policies
There are several other cases worthy of note because an insurance policy was in a foreign language and the parties could not agree on the proper translation.
Take for example, E.T.P.M.-U.S.A. Inc. v. Natural Gas Pipeline Co. of America (E.D. La. 1984). In that case, the French insurance company that provided hull insurance for offshore drilling operations argued that the term “maître d’ oeuvre” meant “contractors” and, thus did not include the corporation claiming coverage.
The corporation, on the other hand, maintained that the term translated to “contracting operators,” which would have included the corporation under the policy. The court found the term ambiguous, and held that the corporation did not sustain its burden to show that the parties intended the corporation to be covered.
Don’t Remain a Blind Man – Hire Legal Translations Service Company Today
Taking all of the above into consideration – such as the need for cross-border insurance and the difficulties that come from language barriers in cases like Weiss and E.T.P.M. – the way to avoid problems in the long run is to get a trusted legal translator in your corner up front.
In a world where your company has focused on international insurance policies, you need a professional translation service on your speed dial. All Language Alliance, Inc. is your solution. We provide excellent translation services at competitive prices. We are able to handle the dense legal insurance language for you translating insurance policies from any language to English and from English to any language, including Spanish, Russian, Simplified Chinese, German, Korean, languages of the European Union, Asian Languages, and more. Email us today to learn more about how we can ease your international insurance burden.
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