Court Ruling Affects Carriers Seeking to Enforce the Limitation of Liability

In Von Diezelski v. All My Sons Moving & Storage of Baton Rouge, Inc., 2018 WL 3118683 (M.D. La. 2018), the United States District Court for the Middle District of Louisiana considered a motion for summary judgment filed by a carrier seeking to enforce the limitation of liability provision of the Carmack Amendment, 49 U.S.C §14706, et seq. 

The Carmack Amendment is the exclusive cause of action for loss or damages to goods arising from the interstate transportation of goods by a common carrier. It allows the carrier to limit its liability to an amount specified in a bill of lading, often significantly less than the actual value of the goods, and, in this case, $0.60 per pound per article, in a shipment of household goods.

The Fifth Circuit’s Four-Pronged Analysis to Limit Liability

To limit liability in cases before the United States Fifth Circuit, a carrier bears the burden of showing that it:

  • maintained a tariff within the prescribed guidelines of the Interstate Commerce Commission (now the Surface Transportation Board),
  • obtained the shipper’s agreement as to his choice of liability,
  • gave the shipper a reasonable opportunity to choose between two or more levels of liability and,
  • issued a receipt or bill of lading prior to moving the shipment.

The Von Diezelski court noted that since the Fifth Circuit adopted this four-pronged analysis, legislation and jurisprudence that a carrier must provide a shipper a copy of its tariff upon request. The court concluded that the carrier had not put on any evidence of its tariff as part of its summary judgment motion, thereby failing the first part.

As for the second, the court also found issue, as, despite language in the bill of lading, the carrier, All My Sons, failed to establish when the bill of lading was provided, to whom it was provided, and whether that individual was given reasonable notice of the liability limitation, and the opportunity to obtain information necessary to making a deliberate and well-informed choice.

Finally, despite an affidavit from the carrier, the court found that it failed to establish that the carrier issued a receipt or bill of lading prior to the move. Summary judgment therefore failed. The court did, however, grant the carrier’s motion on general damages for mental anguish, finding these claims preempted by the Carmack Amendment.

The Upshot of the Van Diezelski Ruling for Carriers

The terms and conditions of the Carmack Amendment provide both shippers and carriers benefits and risks. As shown in Van Diezelski, however, carriers must make certain that they materially and substantively comply with the law’s provisions in order to reap its rewards.