We took a call recently where the person on the other end of the line was pointedly asking is we were covered by an "errors and omissions" insurance policy. This inquiry was a bit out of the ordinary and the colleague who fielded the call was taken aback. Though she did not let on to the caller, her initial gut reaction was one of defensiveness.
Why would anyone inquiring about our services for the first time want to grill us about our insurance coverage? Should we be construing it as some sort of red flag to the effect that the caller (potential client) has a penchant for litigation? Is this an advance warning that a lawsuit would be in the offing if our service turned out to be unsatisfactory?
Wow! Talk about a chilling effect.
Our reply was that we actually don't carry errors and omissions insurance coverage. To begin with, the last time we checked, the annual premium for such coverage was obscene and the cost couldn't be justified under our business model.
We operate as a translation agency after all. Much like a real estate agent, we bring buyers and sellers together and add a transaction fee for our services.
Our position is that, just as the buyer of a house should not expect to be provided a home warranty by the agent who found him a home, neither should the buyer of translation services via an agency expect that the service comes with a guarantee that the work is error-free. In other words, just as home buyers assume the risk in the purchase of a home and are responsible for their own due diligence so are the buyers of translation services.
The nature of our business is such that errors can and do occur. People make mistakes, including the very best and most experienced translators. Especially when you have such a wide range of variables that come into play: language style; the translator's and reviewer's interpretation of meaning; grammar; spelling; technical challenges; typos; punctuation; etc.
That's not to say that as an agency that we don't act responsibly. Our commitment to clients is that we will work on a text until the client is satisfied with the result. (See our Quality Assurance Means Peace of Mind statement.)
But, in the final analysis, it is up to the buyers to make a final determination as to whether or not the work submitted to them meets their needs.
Getting back to our caller, we read him our Business Terms of Service wherein in paragraph 3.0 our disclaimer of liability is clearly spelled out. In a nutshell, all translation assignments are undertaken by us with the clear understanding with our clients that we, as agents, shall not be held liable for errors and omissions.
Other than the model we operate under, our disclaimer of liability is founded in common sense.
This particular caller's request is a good illustration of what we're driving at. We were being asked to provide a quote on the translation of a foreign entity's Request for Proposals (RFP). The value of the work at stake was in the millions of dollars. The estimated labour cost for the translation work required was in the hundreds of dollars.
For a caller to think or suggest that we, as an agency, could be held liable in the event of a 'bad' translation possibly resulting in a misinterpretation of an RFP that might in turn lead to the loss of a contract potentially worth millions, on the basis of a fee amounting to a few hundred dollars worth of services is a bit beyond the pale.
RFPs, by the very nature of their wording, are technically challenging and replete with legalese. Navigating their language is akin to walking through a maze. Clearly, the ultimate subject-matter 'experts' are the clients and not the translators.
In all cases, we tell our clients that the Russian maxim applies: Trust [our translation work] but verify [its accuracy for yourself].
As an agency, we are not loath to state firmly that we act responsibly but we cannot and shall not be held responsible. Our position is clear. It is up to the clients to assume the responsibility for the accuracy of what they are reading and inferring in a translated document. Ultimate accountability in all transactions must and does rest with the client.