PHOENIX — Speakers of Spanish and other languages planning to buy car, home or life insurance better make sure they understand the coverage documents they are given in English. It soon won’t matter whether any copy or explanation they got in another language says something else.
Without comment, Gov. Doug Ducey on Friday signed into law a measure that says courts can consider only the English-language version of an insurance contract if there’s a dispute over coverage. What is in Spanish, French or any other language other than English will become legally irrelevant.
The measure was pushed by Rep. David Livingston, R-Peoria, at the behest of several insurance companies.
The way Livingston sees it, his legislation will help those in non-English speaking communities, providing them more opportunities to get coverage. He said that’s because insurers and agents would feel free to provide explanations in a customer’s native language without fear that a mistranslated word or concept could land them in court, forced to cover something that was never intended.
But during debate on the measure, Rep. Isela Blanc, D-Tempe, disputed Livingston’s contention that the legislation would help Spanish-speaking customers. She argued that they could end up buying insurance based on some mistranslated document, only to find out later they didn’t get the coverage they wanted.
Sen. Olivia Cajero Bedford, D-Tucson, also said she was not buying the argument that having a non-binding version of an insurance contract in another language would help consumers.
“It sounds like a good idea,” she said. “But then they give the people the shaft.”
Marc Osborn, lobbyist for Nationwide Mutual Insurance Co., told lawmakers there are protections against insurers using a deliberately mistranslated version to defraud customers.
He said nothing in the legislation would overrule existing regulations that require insurance companies to use licensed translators who have been approved by the state Department of Insurance. And Osborn said there are laws prohibiting false advertising.
The change in law also drew support from Rep. Mark Finchem, R-Oro Valley.
He cited the 2006 ballot measure that declared English to be the official language of the state. It was adopted by a margin of close to 3-1, a sign that voters “agreed that it would be best to have a single official language,” Finchem said.
The new law will take effect this summer.