Legal Translation Services for Insurance Companies
We’ve blogged about the importance of legal translation services for liability release forms. Are you a licensed insurance agent or insurance carrier that provides a vast array of insurance products to your customers? Do you serve a population where English may not be the first language of some of your foreign-born customers? If your answer to those questions is “yes,” please read on.
Even native English speakers find some difficulty reading and understanding all of the terms in a lengthy insurance policy. So, it is understandable that dense, technical terminology may likely be incomprehensible to a non-English speaker, or someone who has only a slight grasp on the English language.
Accordingly, it is vital that you have the capability to obtain expert legal translation services when you need them. A translator on call could mean the difference between a valid policy, and one that is rendered invalid because the insurance customer did not understand what he or she was signing. Indeed, your company could end up being exposed to significant civil liability if a customer signs a policy that he or she does not understand.
There are a number of cases involving the capacity of a non-English speaking insurance customer to understand the terms of a policy. One such case, Duong v. Salas, from the Louisiana Court of Appeal, Second Circuit, provides a good example of when an insurance company was held liable for coverage even though the customer supposedly waived the coverage three times.
When Legal Translation is Necessary: The Case of the Invalid UM Waiver – Duong V. Salas
In October 1999, Cong Duong and his wife, Yen Nguyen, were involved in a car accident with Carolina Salas. After receiving $20,000 from Salas’s insurance company, Duong filed a lawsuit against his own auto insurance company, USAgencies. The main issue in that lawsuit was whether Duong’s waiver of uninsured/underinsured motorist (UM) coverage was valid given the fact that Duong did not speak or read English. The facts adduced at trial were as follows.
In March 1999, only a month after arriving in the United States from his home country of Vietnam, Duong applied for an auto insurance policy from USAgencies. In fact, Duong visited US Agencies on three different occasions due to changes in his policy needs. At each of the visits, Duong signed an insurance application and a form to waive UM coverage.
Given Duong’s inability to speak or read English, he took his sponsor, Mr. Tran, with him to translate from Vietnamese to English on at least two of the three visits. Tran, however, only had a limited understanding of English himself. The customer service representative from USAgencies, who assisted Duong, stated in court that she explained the UM coverage waiver form to Duong, and that Duong and Tran could and did speak English.
However, both Duong and Tran disputed that assertion. Duong testified in court that he did not understand any of the documents he had signed during any of the three visits to the insurance company. Further, Tran stated that said that UM coverage was not explained to them; that he did not understand the purpose for UM coverage; and that, in fact, Tran obtained the help of his son to translate when Tran purchased liability insurance in the past.
The trial court found that even if Duong had signed the various UM waiver forms, it was clear that Duong did not sufficiently understand English to have effectively waived UM coverage. Accordingly, the trial court found USAgencies liable for the UM coverage.
On appeal, the Court of Appeals of Louisiana, Second Circuit agreed with the trial court. It noted that a valid rejection of UM coverage must be in writing and signed by the named insured. Further, the insurance company must make sure that a person seeking coverage understands and makes an informed rejection of the UM coverage.
The Court of Appeals emphasized that, in the interest of public policy, any doubts regarding insurance should be construed in favor of coverage. Here, there was a question as to whether Duong’s waiver of UM coverage was valid. The benefit of the doubt went to Duong, with a finding that he is entitled to UM coverage.
Most importantly, the Court noted that it is the insurance company’s burden, not the customer’s burden, to show that there was a clear rejection or waiver of coverage. Given that the insurance company failed to meet that burden, Duong was considered to have had UM coverage at the time of the accident. Accordingly, the Louisiana Court of Appeals upheld the judgment against the insurance company.
How a Legal Translation Service Can Help Your Company Avoid the Result in Duong v. Salas
The Duong case sheds important light on issues facing insurance companies when dealing with non-English speaking customers. First, insurance companies, rather than customers, carry the burden of demonstrating that a customer understood the policy terms. Second, any ambiguity with regard to the validity of a UM waiver, or other insurance agreement, will be viewed in a light most favorable to the customer.
So, the moral of this story is: When working with a customer who does not understand or who has a limited grasp of English, you and your company need an experienced legal translation service. We provide expert-quality translators and interpreters for any insurance agent, risk manager, or in-house counsel. You can avoid USAgencies’ fate in the Duong case by getting in touch today.