Legal Impact of a Translation

Legal Impact of a Translation

Producing correct translations in business is of crucial importance. Whilst poor translations may be abstractly amusing, little errors can have an unexpectedly huge impact when it comes to corporate safety and legality. Aiming to prevent such mistakes can help protect today’s businesses against major legal difficulties. Let us have a look at some of the most significant consequences of poor translations in the business world.

Safety Plan Failures

In the United States, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) offers guidelines for businesses. In many cases, companies need to develop safety plans that cover how certain hazardous actions are handled.


Producing correct translations in business is of crucial importance.

The OSHA states that certain industries, such as oil refineries and chemical plants, must ensure their employees fully understand and subsequently follow their safety plan guidance. However, if staff members lack fluency in English, they will require translation of the documentation into their native tongue. Doing this is essential and a failure to meet this requirement can be costly not to mention dangerous. It could lead to investigations, shutdowns and fines. Indeed, a company could be liable for damages and costs that result from inaccurate and poor translations of their safety plan documentation.

Contracts Issues

Many companies now operate internationally, entering contracts with clients, vendors and suppliers from across the globe. Communication between all these stakeholders needs to be precise and clear to avoid any legal issues during the contract enforcement and duration. Companies operating in the industrial and chemical fields need to take considerable note of this. Incorrect scientific translations can result in the delay of essential components being delivered and could also result in perilous situations for those working with such substances. For businesses working internationally, inaccurate contractual translation may therefore result in huge financial losses.

And it is not only the companies that are affected by mistakes in translation as shown in the Korea-European Union Free Trade Agreement. Rather than hiring professional translators, the trade ministry in Korea translated the document internally with disastrous results. There were 207 mistakes in the translation, which resulted in a huge setback for a process that had already been long delayed. Not only that, but the whole event was also a source of huge embarrassment.


False Advertising

You only have to do a quick internet search to find some humorous improper translations. Most mistakes of this kind only offer a simple chuckle to the onlooker and perhaps a small number of sales losses. However, some errors in advertising can be damaging legally as well as financially. Lots of countries have strict regulations for advertising and punish businesses for deceptive or false marketing. The Federal Trade Commission in the U.S. pursues inaccurate or inflated advertising claims about products and their capabilities or properties. There are penalties in many countries for advertising falsely. In the U.K., criminal charges can be brought against companies for doing so. Whilst errors in translation could be innocent mistakes, companies who violate laws designed to protect consumers could still find themselves facing a costly and long battle to prove that their intentions were not to deceive customers.


Many companies now operate internationally, entering contracts with clients, vendors and suppliers from across the globe.

Civil Liability

As mentioned, businesses inadvertently describing products incorrectly can be liable for damages or injuries caused when using the products even if the mistake was simply due to a translation error in instructions. Products on the international market often need to have instructions produced in many languages so that customers across the world can read them. In translating directions inaccurately, there can be a number of consequences.

Firstly, customers who fail to be able to decipher the instructions correctly may assemble and/or use a product incorrectly. This may result in many refund requests and even complaints about the company. Secondly, some mistranslations could result in dangerous consequences and, as such, the company could be liable for injuries or even deaths if the product is used as directed by the translation mistakes. This would lead to huge costs in defending such cases which could bankrupt the company. Thirdly, food and drink companies, especially those importing from other countries, are particularly vulnerable to civil liability cases when translating ingredient lists and the ingredients’ provenance. For people who need to avoid certain allergens, a mistranslation could result in death at worst and significant health problems at best. Legally, a company that does not ensure accuracy in translated ingredient lists could be liable for the deaths or injuries that result from their translation mistakes. Something that no company would want.

Professional Translation is Key

To avoid legal issues with translation, investing in professional translation services shows due diligence for the corporate entity and reduces the risks of legal liability in situations like those described. Circle Translations offers translation services across all business sectors and has a special service for legal translation. With an awareness that word and language choices can make or break a legal case, using such a professional service will help avoid potential legal pitfalls in business.

In sum, given that most industrial and manufacturing companies require translation services at least occasionally, entrusting such responsibility to a professional service not only ensures accuracy but also ensures timely delivery thus avoiding potential embarrassment akin to that seen in Korea. With professional translation, businesses can reduce the potential legal liability as well as ensure that they have a positive reputation in the business-to-business marketplace. And, after all, when it comes to being a successful business, reputation is what counts!