The Carmack Amendment: Burdens of Proof

Kevin Anderson Cargo Liability, Transportation

The Carmack Amendment establishes a uniform set of rules that interstate trucking companies can readily look to for liability on cargo claims. But when it comes to Carmack Amendment claims, which party has the burden of proof over damaged cargo? The shipper? The carrier? The answers to this question require several different considerations.

Illinois Federal Court Lays out Burden of Proof

A federal district court in Illinois recently explained the law of who has what burden of proof in a Carmack Amendment claim. In that case, a company contracted with a carrier to ship their cargo from California to Pennsylvania, and during transit the truck carrying the goods was in a rollover accident. As a result of the accident the company’s cargo sustained damage amounting to over $100,000. Ultimately, the court needed to determine was who was responsible for the lost goods.

It making its decision, the court explained who has the initial burden of proof in a Carmack Amendment claim, and what that burden consists of. To establish a claim under the Carmack Amendment, a claimant must establish:

  1. That the shipper delivered the goods to the carrier in good condition;
  2. That the goods were lost or damaged; and
  3. The amount of damages to the goods in terms of dollars.

After a claimant establishes these three elements, the burden of proof then shifts to the carrier to show that the damage did not occur due to their negligence, but for some other reasons.

When a Carrier Isn’t Liable

There are a number of circumstances where a carrier will not be held responsible for lost or damaged goods. Those were clearly explained in an early 9th Circuit Court of Appeals case involving the shipment of frozen foods. There, the court explained that a carrier can show they are not liable when the goods are damaged or lost because of:

  • The act of the shipper;
  • An act of God (natural disaster, etc.);
  • Public enemies (during times of war);
  • Public authority; or
  • The inherent vice or nature of the goods being shipped.

In that case the carrier argued, successfully, that frozen foods by their nature would spoil and that they should not be held liable for the spoliation. To prove their case, the carrier showed how they followed all the current federal regulations on how to transport and preserve frozen foods.

The Carmack Amendment Today

These standards of proof and burden shifting remain in effect today. Rules and regulations on what a carrier must do to protect cargo continually change, and keeping up to date with and following those regulations and rules gives trucking companies the best chance of proving their case in a Carmack Amendment claim. And each sector of the trucking industry will have their own set of rules and regulations that are particular to it.

At Anderson and Yamada, P.C., we keep up to date on all of the most current rules and regulations related to the Carmack Amendment. Our practice is focused on the trucking industry and the legal challenges it faces. We can provide your company with a host of legal services that will contribute to your company’s continued success. Contact us so we can serve you.