Language Translation, Product Warning Labels and Foreign Language Speakers

Professional foreign language translations are vital for product liability cases. Somebody drowns while scuba diving, another takes out an eye with a nail driver and another gets burned in the face from an exploding propane tank. What do they have in common? The victims were all non-English speakers using equipment containing no foreign language translation of the safety information. Clearly, as the number of non-English speakers continues to grow, these sorts of incidents will become more and more common. However, currently no federal or state law requires labels to contain a foreign language translation. In fact, in states with English-only laws, the opposite can be argued.

Yet, two things should be kept in mind:

1. Some companies have turned to the use of graphic warning labels. Although these may stand a better chance if a lawsuit is brought, just because something is drawn and not written does not mean it won’t get ‘lost in translation’. Even images need foreign language translation in order to overcome cultural differences and misunderstandings.

2. There is a growing argument that when products are aimed at a foreign-speaking audience (or where the manufacturer knows that a large foreign-speaking audience will use the product) the company has notice of a potential danger and thus should include a foreign language translation of the safety information.

Up Next: Professional Translation Services and Cross-Border Divorces: EU and the US