Liability Laws Affecting Inland Logistics

Brad Harmon attorney HunterMaclean SavannahBy Brad Harmon, HunterMaclean

Special to the Savannah Morning News

When a container is unloaded from a cargo shop at the Georgia Ports Authority in Savannah and placed on a chassis, who is required to insure the goods inside that container for loss? And who is responsible if something goes wrong?

Interestingly, the answer to both questions is the same: it depends. Shipping documents and individual circumstances can affect liability issues. That’s why, in the inland logistics industry, liability issues can be remarkably complex.

The bill of lading typically says the carrier shall bear the risk of loss once the carrier’s truck leaves the loading dock of a location and where goods are tendered on behalf of a shipper until those goods reach their final destination. Often times, the carrier bears the risk of loss for goods while in transit and must arrange for appropriate insurance to cover goods in transit. Risk of loss is an important concern that should be addressed long before a container is ever unloaded from a freighter in Savannah.

Once a container moves from a ship to a transportation vehicle on land, liability is generally covered by the Carmack Amendment, which determines remedies to shippers for loss or damage in interstate transit. Originally passed in 1906, the Carmack Amendment was designed to offer governance regarding rail transportation bills of lading. It has since evolved to effectively serve as a unified national code of liability for interstate rail and motor carriers.

In general, the law allows a civil suit to be brought against a carrier in state or federal court. When damages exceed $10,000, however, federal courts retain jurisdiction over a lawsuit filed under the Carmack Amendment.

This important piece of legislation generally preempts state and common-law claims and also preempts causes of action for breach of insurance contracts, negligence, breach of contracts of carriage, conversion, negligent misrepresentation, intentional misrepresentation and negligent infliction of emotional distress.

It’s imperative for shippers, carriers and third-party logistics providers to have adequate contracts in place to ensure full legal protection in case of risk of loss, damage to cargo or additional liability issues that may during inland transportation.

Be sure to consult with an attorney with transportation and logistics experience to make sure your company is fully protected in case anything goes wrong while goods are in transit to their final destination.