New state law limits legal debates to English language version of insurance documents

PHOENIX -- Planning to buy insurance for your car, your home or your life?

Got a new contract for auto, home or life insurance?

Better make sure you understand the coverage documents you’re given in English. That’s because it soon won’t matter whether the copy or explanation you 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 if there’s a dispute over coverage. More to the point, what is in a Spanish or French or any other language 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 actually will help those in non-English speaking communities, providing them more opportunities to get coverage. He said that’s because insurers and gents would feel free to provide explanations in a customer’s native language without fear that a mis-translated 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 mis-translated 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 really help consumers.

“It sounds like a good idea,’’ said Sen. Olivia Cajero Bedford, D-Tucson. “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 which declared English to be the official language of the state. It was adopted by a margin of close to 3-1, a sign Finchem said that voters “agreed that it would be best to have a single official language.’’

The new law will take effect later this summer.

On Twitter: @azcapmedia

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