Understanding van line and agent movers split liability when storing your household goods

Van Line Split Liability

By Christopher Noblit

"SPLIT LIABILITY" - THE BAD NEWS
When a local moving company/agent visits your home to provide you with a moving estimate, and you advise the agent's representative that you are want to place you goods into storage, you need to understand (because it is most likely that you will not be told) that you are really dealing with two (2) separate moving companies. The local moving company/agent (acting as a representative of their van line) will accept your shipment into origin storage for interstate transport within 90 days. The term for this is "storage-in-transit" (SIT). The rules for storage-in-transit are contained in the carrier's (the van line's) tariff. SIT is effective for 90 days (unless the 90 rule is extended via contract between the carrier and a company, or the carrier has filed an exception in their tariff to the 90 day rule). After the 90 days are up, and the shipment is still in storage, the shipment "converts" from SIT to what is called "permanent storage". What is the difference between SIT and permanent storage? Nothing physically; the goods remain in the same warehouse and nothing physically changes. What does change is who is liable for loss or damage to the goods.

WHO IS RESPONSIBLE FOR WHAT?
The van line is liable for loss or damage to shipments in SIT or during the course of interstate transport. The local moving company/agent (as a separate and distinct company) is liable for loss or damage to a permanent storage shipment or during transport of an intrastate (within the same State) shipment. This is what is heard; "Storage blames the movers and the movers blame storage, though it is the same company, office, etc.". Unfortunately, it is not the same company, which is certainly confusing to John and Jane Q. Customer. You see, interstate carriers (such as XYZ Van Line for arguments sake) only move shipments interstate (between different states), so they are only liable while the shipment is in their care and custody during the course of interstate transport (or while the shipment is being stored during SIT).

On the other hand, the van line's local moving company/agent is itself a separate and distinct moving company which is authorized by their State Department of Transportation or Public Utilities/Services Commission to perform intrastate moving services (although some states, such as Florida, are not regulated). When an SIT shipment converts to permanent storage the van line carrier's liability for loss or damage ends. The local moving company/agent becomes liable for loss of damage from that day on). If a shipment was initially placed into permanent storage, and then moved to another state, then the local moving company/agent is liable for any damage which was caused up until the time that the interstate van line carrier loads the shipment at the local moving company/agent's warehouse. Then, the interstate van line carrier is liable for damage caused between the warehouse and the shipments final (interstate) destination.

This is all well and fine, except that the customer can get stuck between the two. Who did the damage? The two entities point their fingers at each other while the customer gets left out in the cold.

The customer needs to understand that the local moving company/agent is really two companies. Sometimes they are a separate local entity (as when they performing intrastate [within same state] moves or while a shipment is in permanent storage at their warehouse). In these instances the local moving company is a separate and distinct moving company. Same truck - same uniform - same faces. Different company. At other times (such as during SIT) they act as an extension and a representative of the van line carrier that they are affiliated with.

So who did the damage?

Well...there should always be a paper trail.

ESTABLISHING LIABILITY FOR LOSS OR DAMAGE
If any of your household goods are lost or damaged while in permanent storage, storage-in-transit, or during transportation, it is the customer's responsibility to correctly document that such loss or damage occurred while the shipment was in the mover's care. This is accomplished with the "Household Goods Descriptive Inventory" (prepared by the driver at the origin residence, prior to loading the shipment). The inventory establishes what is being moved and each item's condition when the mover takes the shipment into it's possession. By signing the Inventory at origin, the customer acknowledges what was moved and the condition of each item when the mover took possession. Upon final delivery of your goods at destination, you will be asked to sign the Household Goods Descriptive Inventory again. Any loss or damage which occurred while your shipment was in the mover's care must be noted on the inventory at this time. If you fail to do so, your claim may be denied. You need to look your goods over thoroughly after they've been unloaded. If any are missing or damaged, you must note it on the mover's copy of the Household Goods Descriptive Inventory and retain a copy for your records.

THE PAPER TRAIL
When the mover takes your belongings permanent storage the inventory establishes the condition of your shipment at that time. When the shipment is ready for interstate transport a van line carrier arrives at the local moving company/agents warehouse. When the shipment is loaded onto the van line carrier's truck the van line carrier assumes liability for the shipment while the shipment is in their care. The shipments initial condition is established by the initial inventory that the local moving company/agent performed upon initial pickup. In some instances, the van line's driver might write a (second) completely new inventory, but in most instances the driver will accept the local moving company/agent's inventory and will determine if any damage is present that is not listed on the inventory. Any discrepancies of damage or shortages are made on the inventory or, more preferably, on an "Exception Sheet". These notations are called "Exceptions". That is; they are exceptions to the initial inventory. The driver completes an "Exception Sheet" that is signed by both the local moving company/agent and the driver.

The Exception Sheet establishes additional damage that was not on the initial inventory , proving that it was caused while the shipment was in the local moving company/agent's care and custody.

Once again, after final delivery it is the customer who must take his or her own exceptions which will note any missing or damaged items. The customer will not see or sign the Exception Sheet as this document is meant to help the local moving company/agent and the van line determine who is liable in an instance of split liability.

So, your question to the van line carrier should be simple...

Did you or did you not take any exceptions when you loaded my shipment from your agent's warehouse?

1. Items for which you DID take exceptions
Which items did you take exceptions on and what are the exceptions that were taken? I will compare that to the items I am claiming damaged. Items that you took exceptions on - and your exceptions match the damage that has occurred to my belongings - should be settled by the local moving company/agent.

2. Items for which you DID NOT take exceptions
For these items, you (the carrier) accepted loss or damage liability for these items which you moved and whose condition was established by the initial local moving company/agent's inventory. If you did not take exceptions then you are liable for replacement, repair, or cash settlement, subject to the valuation option chosen by the customer on the Bill of Lading.

BUT LIABLE FOR ONLY THE VALUATION WHICH YOU SELECTED
It is important to understand that the carrier (either the local moving company/agent or the interstate van line carrier) are liable only for the type of liability for loss or damage that the customer selected (on the Bill of Lading) at the time the shipment was initially loaded. If you selected $0.60 per pound per article, then that's all you get for your claim. If you selected depreciated liability, then that's all you are going to get. If you selected full replacement value liability you shouldn't have any complaints. You need to look at your copy of the Bill of Lading to determine the extent of the carrier's liability. What did you sign for? If you signed for "$1.25 per pound" (and if $1.25 per pound is a correct reflection of a liability option in the mover's tariff) then this valuation is all that you are entitled to.

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