The English Language Requirement In Florida For Legal Documents

South Floridians are used to the international “flavor” of their home environment. We are a community of people from many places, of many customs, and many languages. While it seems increasingly more common for people to speak two, or even three, languages, the law in Florida still adheres to the tradition that those who want to stand on or enforce their legal rights need to do so in the English language.

One may be surprised to discover that, despite the significant political turmoil over non-English speakers and assimilationist ideals that favor the concept of a single American tongue, the United States does not have an official language.

The law, as an institution and evolving body of rights, entitlements, and procedures, however, very much adheres to the tradition that English is the touchstone of our communications.

In Florida, parties are presumed to know the contents of a contract they have signed. This applies not only to illiterate persons, but those who do not speak English and have signed an English language agreement. Following on from this, “[i]f a person cannot read the instrument, it is as much his duty to procure some reliable person to read and explain it to him, before he signs it, as it would be to read it before he signed it if he were able to do so, and his failure to obtain a reading and explanation of it is such gross negligence as will estop him from avoiding it on the ground that he was ignorant of its contents.” Merrill, Lynch, Pierce, Fenner & Smith, Inc., 467 So. 2d 311, 313 (Fla. 5th DCA 1985) (quoting Sutton v. Crane, 101 So. 2d 823 (Fla. 2d DCA 1958)). In other words, you cannot rely on a lack of understanding the language as a basis to avoid a contractual obligation.

In the event that you find yourself party to litigation and such litigation requires the use, reliance, enforcement, or interpretation of documents drafted in foreign languages, courts (at least in Florida) require that certified translations of those documents be used as part of your pleadings and in the presentation of your evidence. The failure to do so can get your complaint dismissed and send you back to square one until you procure certified translations. See Diaz v. Bell Microproducts-Future Tech, Inc., 43 So. 2d 138, 140 (Fla. 3d DCA 2010) (failure to attach English translation of Spanish language document to complaint required dismissal).

So, although we live in jumping off and landing points for so many foreign nationals and serve as a gateway to and from so many other places, the long-established reliance on the English language as a basis for the enforcement of one’s rights and entitlements in Florida remains strong.