I recently received a call from a client (an interstate trucking company) with questions about recovering freight charges they had not been paid. Apparently the shipper had paid the broker for the shipments in question, but the broker had gone out of business before paying the carrier. The carrier wanted to know if they had the ability to go after the shipper for the unpaid freight charges. Before we even got in to the details surrounding the ability to make the shipper pay twice or going after the consignee (see previous articles on shipper and consignee liability for freight charges here, here and here ), I asked how long ago the shipments occurred. Unfortunately for the carrier, the answer was 20 months ago.
Federal statute provides for a short 18 month statute of limitations for the collection of freight charges. Specifically, 49 USC § 14705(a) states:
A carrier providing transportation or service . . . must begin a civil action to recover charges for transportation or service provided by the carrier within 18 months after the claim accrues.
While many states provide longer than 18 months to collect unpaid fees, those longer statute of limitations won’t apply unless the shipper has expressly waived the federal 18 month statute of limitations. As such, all motor carriers should expect the 18 month statute of limitations to apply. If you are a trucking company, don’t expect to recover freight charges that are more than 18 months old.
It is important to know that you don’t have much time to file a lawsuit to recover freight charges. By understanding the filing deadlines and statutes of limitations, you can avoid losing your freight charge collection rights or paying time-barred claims.