Taking a Tough Line on LTL

Q: You’ve written before about consignees who reject deliveries of truckloads that were sealed because the seals were breached. We’re a less-than-truckload motor carrier, and your articles made me think of some issues we are having with shippers who ship containers, shrink wrap and other various products used in food packaging.

We’re being asked or required to do two things:

  1. Deliver an LTL shipment with a padlock or the shipment will be refused. As you’re well aware, in the LTL environment, a padlock/seal at delivery means even less than if it were a truckload shipment.
  2. These same shippers are requiring we do not co-load any hazardous material (including but not just limited to poisons) or non-hazardous aromatic materials on the same trailer, or risk it being refused and a claim filed for the full invoice amount.

We can obviously choose not to do business with these shippers, but with our mix of freight, it’s impossible to comply with this request and it represents a fair amount of business. As I understand it, these are not Food and Drug Administration requirements.

I appreciate your thoughts on this matter.

A: Never mind what the FDA does or doesn’t require; that isn’t your problem. If it’s a problem at all, it’s your shipper’s.

Your problem is that your shippers are making unreasonable demands of you and placing unreasonable restrictions on you. And you seem to be meekly going along with them, for reasons I can’t quite fathom.

I don’t think I need to spend a lot of time on the padlock/seal issue. It’s identical to the issue of a breached seal on a truckload shipment, and no more gives rise to a claim by itself than does the other. Whether it’s an LTL or a truckload shipment, the point is the same: Were the goods injured (or lost) or not? That’s the key issue here, rather than the status of a security device on the trailer.

The matter of co-loading is somewhat different. You sent me a sample bill of lading, which tells me that the shipper’s requirement is more than just a whim. The notation describes the shipments as “permeable containers or materials for foodstuffs,” which goes far to explain the shipper’s desire to avoid co-loading with commodities that might contaminate the containers or materials.

What it doesn’t explain is why the shipper is silly enough to be sending these containers/materials unprotected. If you have something that’s permeable and is to be used in the packaging of foodstuffs, wouldn’t it make sense to protect whatever it is against the possibility of contamination?

I mean, it isn’t all that difficult. Just wrap it in shrink, or otherwise enclose it protectively. That not only makes it immaterial whether the goods are co-loaded with just about anything else but also protects the shipment from contamination by anything else it may encounter, such as vermin, atmospheric pollution and so forth.

It is, I suppose, understandable that the shipper would prefer not to spend the money to protect its permeable packaging material, but that doesn’t make it reasonable for the shipper to transfer the burden of protecting that material against possible contamination to you. And it certainly goes no distance at all to explaining why you’re accepting that transfer of responsibility.

I don’t suggest you stop doing business with such shippers, which you seem to regard as your only alternative. What I do suggest is that you take a tougher line when it comes to claims. A claim filed only on the ground that you co-loaded with a hazardous material or something aromatic (if the shipper even discovers that you did) simply should be declined on the ground that you don’t offer such protections as part of your transportation service on an LTL shipment.

I don’t think any court in the country would uphold such a claim, so that far you’re clear. If denial of such an unreasonable claim costs you that shipper’s business, then that is a price you’ll have to pay. But I doubt the shipper will have much better luck pursuing claims of this nature with your competitors, either.

The point is that the transportation process necessarily entails exposing one’s goods to the influence of the environment in which the transportation is performed. Any shipper who believes otherwise is deluding himself, and no amount of bill of lading notations can overcome this reality. Nor should you, as a carrier, be willing to humbly cater to the demands of such an unreasonable shipper. Your answer is simply to man up when claims of this nature cross your desk.

Consultant, author and educator Colin Barrett is president of Barrett Transportation Consultants. Send your questions to him at 5201 Whippoorwill Lane, Johns Island, S.C. 29455; phone, 843-559-1277; e-mail, BarrettTrn@aol.com. Contact him to order the most recent 351-page compiled edition of past Q&A columns, published in 2010.

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