Small Details of Litigation

Kevin Anderson Cargo Liability, Judgments, Transportation

The Carmack Amendment is a federal law which provides consistency and continuity for truckers, shippers, brokers, and other involved in interstate trucking. Under its provisions, a carrier is strictly liable for the damages and loss that can occur to shipments that are shipped in interstate commerce. Of course this is not a new proposition to anyone in the industry itself.

While the rule and principle of the Carmack Amendment is simple and clear, getting from damages to a court ruling can be complex and difficult. First a claim must be filed, in federal court, and then the long and often complex road of litigation must be taken to get a result. Along that road are potholes, soft shoulders, and other distractions that are best navigated by the right legal team.

Initial Discovery

One of the first stops on the litigation road is discovery. This is a tool used by both sides of a conflict to obtain as much information as possible to inform settlement negotiations and prepare for trial. A small but important part of discovery are requests for admissions under Rule 36 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. That is the lesson we take from a recent Carmack Amendment case out of a federal court in Wisconsin.

In that case, a shipment of telephones worth in excess of $200,000 was stolen while in transit. The shipper immediately sued the carrier for the full amount of loss, as allowed under the Carmack Amendment, and the carrier returned a defense saying that the amount of liability was reduced because of the bill of lading. Then, in litigation and through discovery, the carrier requested the shipper to admit or deny that they issued the bill of lading that did limit liability.

The shipper, under a different understanding of what such an admission in this case would mean, admitted that they issued the bill of lading. After getting this admission the carrier moved for summary judgment on the theory that by issuing the bill of lading, the shipper had ample opportunity to choose between liability amounts, and therefore properly limiting liability under the Carmack Amendment. Fortunately for the shipper in this case, the court allowed them to retract that admission, and recharacterize it so that they did not suffer a summary judgment before going to trial.

Details in Litigation Matter

This case underscores how important details are prior to and particularly during litigation. A simple admission without understanding the implications of admitting to it can derail a case and send it to summary judgment before it has its day in court. This is why having the right legal team on your trucking company’s side is so important.

If you are in the transportation industry the question is not whether you will end up in court for one thing or another, but when. At Anderson and Yamada we have decades of the experiences successfully representing trucking companies in all their legal needs. Contact us today and make us part of your team and we will help you in every way possible towards a successful future.