Elements of Basic Carmack Amendment Case in Federal Court

Kevin Anderson Cargo Liability, Transportation

The Carmack Amendment is a federal law that establishes a uniform policy of liability for lost, damaged, and stolen goods shipped from one state to or through another. But before a case can proceed to trial, or before a shipper can make a claim under the Carmack Amendment, the shipper must first show a basic case, or as it is known in the law, a prima facie case. Once a basic case is shown, it usually goes to trial or is settled out of court.

The elements of a basic Carmack Amendment case are established by two sources of law. The original and most authoritative source comes from the federal code. And the Carmack Amendment is codified in 49 U.S. Code ยง 14706. But federal statutes are not the only source of rules and regulations on the Carmack Amendment because there are too many provisions that need to be interpreted before they can be easily applied.

The second and perhaps more important source of law on the Carmack Amendment comes from federal judges and their opinions interpreting what the Carmack Amendment means. Currently, there are 13 federal circuits, each with their body of law regarding the Carmack Amendment. And then there is the Supreme Court with its own opinions interpreting the Carmack Amendment.

Three Primary Elements to Establish Carmack Amendment Case

Across the 13 federal circuits and the Supreme Court the elements for establishing a prima facie case under the Carmack Amendment is fairly standard. There are three primary elements needed for a shipper to establish a basic case, and once those elements are established, the case is not as easy to defend. Those three elements involve showing:

  • The goods were delivered to the carrier in good condition;
  • The goods were damaged before delivery to their final destination; and,
  • The amount of damages.

Each of these elements is an opportunity for a carrier to defend against a claim.

As in most cases, establishing these elements is very fact specific. Once a dispute makes its way to the courts, only evidence will establish these elements. That evidence will take form in a number of different ways. It can come from testimony by the people involved in what happened, shipping manifests, pictures, and more. And because the Carmack Amendment is a shipper friendly policy, courts tend to side with a shipper on issues like when cargo was damaged, absent the carrier showing otherwise.

What These Elements Mean for a Transportation Company

Transportation companies can benefit a great deal from knowing about and understanding the basic elements of the Carmack Amendment. For example, the better documentation a company has, the more information they will have to defend a claim based on damaged, lost, or stolen cargo. The more information a company has in the process of getting goods from one place to another, the better of that company is when cases make it to court.

At Anderson and Yamada we have decades of experience representing transportation companies in Oregon, Washington, California, and more. As you confront a legal challenge with your company, contact us. We look forward to hearing from you soon.