As editors, we can have a significant impact on a document. From small, nuanced punctuation revisions to large-scale content changes, editing aims to revise the text to improve it. But what happens if an error is discovered in the final file? Or there’s an argument that the text wasn’t improved? What if, heaven forbid, there’s litigation about a document you reviewed? How liable are you, and do you need insurance to protect yourself from these possible scenarios?
TYPES OF LIABILITY INSURANCE
First, what types of liability insurance are available? The most common is professional liability insurance, often called errors and omission (E&O) insurance, which protects against any issues arising from using your professional services. This includes claims of failure or negligence (actual or alleged) to perform contractual services to the agreed-upon standards, external accusations, financial loss related to a completed project, and errors in the final deliverable.
The other commonly recommended insurance option is general liability insurance. This protects you and your business from third-party claims unrelated to your professional services. This includes damage to property and injury to people. Basically, this addresses more direct forms of harm and any extenuating expenses that may arise from them.
WHO IS LIABLE?
The liability for any errors, omissions, or text issues (including typos, incorrect information, unclear meaning, confusion from punctuation issues, etc.) typically falls to the content creator or publisher. The content creator is responsible for ensuring the text is accurate, the publisher is responsible for final approval before printing, and the editor is responsible for improving the text as much as possible. Many editors include statements in their terms of service or contract that address the assumption of a “perfect” file and accepted rates of errors within a returned file. Often also included is language to clarify that the author, publisher, or content creator is responsible for final approval of the document. These statements reiterate the fact that the editor is not the responsible party for either the original content or the final deliverable.
LIABILITY IN CONTRACTS
It’s not uncommon for editors to frequently be met with contracts that include boilerplate text requiring contractors to carry liability insurance as part of their service agreement. And in nearly every single instance, this insurance clause requirement can, and should, be struck from the contract, as the editor is not the liable party. In fact, most insurance companies do not even offer these types of policies for editors. If there’s a situation in which coverage is nonnegotiable (and the professional relationship is worth obtaining insurance), the cost of coverage is usually a client-specific requirement and is most commonly treated as an expense added to the service quote or invoice.
WHEN YOU MAY NEED IT
If you are working as a sole proprietor and don’t have employees, there isn’t a need for this type of insurance. If you employ a team (this does not include using subcontractors), it’s a good idea to look into your insurance options. After all, you are the responsible party for all content and final deliverables presented to clients even if you aren’t personally involved in the revision process. If you are a writer, specifically in law, science, medicine, or investigative reporting, then there may be instances in which liability insurance coverage will be beneficial.
OBTAINING LIABILITY INSURANCE
Should you decide to try to obtain it, there are a few places you can find coverage. Just keep in mind that most plans are intended for writers and not editors. Also, be aware that if requested, the insurance may need to be held for a period beyond the time of service. As expected, coverage plans are available (usually as a member benefit) primarily through writing associations such as the Society of Professional Journalists, the National Federation of Press Women, and The Authors Guild. The Society for Editors and Proofreaders also offers coverage, but it is not available to U.S. editors.
Unless you’re working as a content creator or someone with final approval of a published document, you can omit the errors insurance from your list of necessary business expenses. Next time you’re approached with a contract that includes a liability insurance clause, you can negotiate with confidence, which will in return show your client that you’re knowledgeable about not only the finer points of language and editing but also about running your business.