Shippers, Carriers in Row Over Standard Bill of Lading

Kevin Anderson Bills of Lading, Transportation

Changes are afoot regarding the standard bill of lading used by carriers who participate in the National Motor Freight Classification. That bill of lading uses the standard tariff and incorporates the terms of a shipment between shipper and carrier. That tariff is created and implemented by the NMF Conference, represented heavily by the bigger carriers in the country.

Because the bill of lading is closer to companies doing the shipping, rather than the shippers, it has carrier friendly terms. It is those terms that have brought organizations representing shippers out of the woodwork to fight the changes to the standard bill of lading, and they have laid their claims to the Surface Transportation Board who will accept or reject the new terms.

Changes to the Standard Bill of Lading

One big change to the new bill of lading is under what terms most less-than-truckload carriers will haul freight in the future. Those new terms state that unless a carrier and shipper have a separate, bilateral agreement in place, the standard bill of lading will now apply. That does away with bills of lading used by shippers, unless they have a separate contract with the carriers.

Another big change in the new bill of lading is how the burden of proving negligence is shifted from carrier to shipper. To prove a case for damaged or lost goods in the past, a shipper simply had to show that they delivered a shipment in good condition to a carrier, then the goods were delivered damaged. After showing that, the burden of proof shifted to the carrier to prove they were not negligent in damaging the goods.

Under the new terms the burden of proving negligence shifts to the shipper in the following three cases:

  • when the shipment is damaged after being stopped or held in transit at the shipper’s request;
  • when the shipment is damaged because of an impassible road, bridge, or other faulty or impassable highway; and,
  • when the goods are loaded or secured by the shipper himself.

Granted, these types of cases do not make up the majority of lost claims, but they happen.

Legal Challenge

Whether the STB approves the new bill of lading or not, the legality of the new terms will be tested in federal court. The Carmack Amendment puts specific requirements on carriers before they can limit liability, and those requirements cannot simply be written out of existence because of a new standard form bill of lading. Right now both sides are arguing whether the terms defy or comply with federal law, but it will be left to a judge to decide.

This situation also acts as a reminder to those companies involved in the transportation industry to understand how important terms and conditions are. If your company has the right bill of lading, liability can be reduced, terms can be in your favor, and your company can be more successful. To ensure your efforts comply with the law, you need the right legal partner counseling and guiding you. At Anderson and Yamada, P.C. we have decades of experiences successfully helping trucking companies do just that. Contact us today.