The Carmack Amendment, Intent, and International Shipments

Kevin Anderson Cargo Liability, Transportation

A federal judge in Maryland recently decided a difficult Carmack Amendment case where it was not clear whether state law or the Carmack Amendment would apply. Of course the Carmack Amendment is federal law establishing a uniform policy of liability for lost or damaged goods shipped interstate. Because it is a federal policy and law, it preempts state laws that would otherwise apply to lost or damaged goods shipped interstate.

With the law nothing is ever as clear as the rules which so neatly describe what should happen. Each case is full of facts that could apply to one situation in one way, and a different in another. That is why we have lawyers, litigations, courts, judges, and juries. Each party plays an important role to produce a fair and just result under the law. But even with all the players involved, sometimes the results are not clearly correct, but that is the nature of the law.

What Happened in This Case

This case involved a man arranging for shipment of his household goods from Maryland to Vienna, Austria. Prior to his goods being shipped internationally, the man contracted with a well-known shipping company to have his home goods packed and shipped to a Baltimore, Maryland facility for storage prior to being shipped to Vienna.

After being in storage for three months, the man then contracted with a separate carrier to have his goods shipped to Vienna from the holding facility. When the other company arrived, the complaint alleges that the holding company would not release the goods until they paid an additional, undisclosed fee. In addition, the new shipping company documented several losses and damages to the goods.

The lawsuit in this case centered around the alleged unfair pricing practices and for the loss and damage of personal property. But the man brought his claims under state law because the goods were never shipped interstate with the holding company who simply stored the man’s goods and never left the state of Maryland with those goods. A reasonable approach and sensible conclusion, but the judge in this case disagreed.

Court’s Ruling

The court in this case was asked to retain the case in federal court under the Carmack Amendment, and dismiss it because all the claims made were under state law. The court concluded that the intent of the shipper to ship his goods interstate made this a Carmack Amendment claim, even though the company being sued only contracted to move and hold the goods intrastate. But the case was not dismissed because the court restructured all of the state law damage and loss claims as Carmack Amendment claims.

This case is an example of how complex damaged or lost cargo cases can quickly become. It is also a lesson in why choosing the right legal team is essential to a positive outcome for every trucking company dealing with lost and damaged cargo claims. At Anderson and Yamada we have decades of experience helping trucking companies deal with all of their legal problems. Contact us today; we look forward to hearing from you.