Q & A: Are ''Imaged'' Documents Enough?

Q & A: Are ''Imaged'' Documents Enough?

Copyright 2003, Traffic World, Inc.

Q:

My company is in the freight bill payment processing business and we are considering implementing an imaging solution for our clients. We would image the freight bills and all of their corresponding backup. My question is this: if we have the images archived, can we destroy the original documents?

A:

In general, yes.

There are circumstances in which I''d hang onto the original. Notarized documents, for example; imaging technology is two-dimensional and can''t properly capture the notary''s seal. Likewise documents that incorporate holograms or which are in part authenticated by details of their stationery or the ink employed in their printing (passports, folding money, etc.). There are other documents that have legal significance beyond what imaging can reflect.

But for the most part, the law has progressed to the point that imaged documents - whether analog on microfilm, microfiche, etc., or digital on various forms of electronic preservation - are as acceptable in law as the original papers themselves. For safety it''s best to preserve imaged documents on media that can''t readily be altered - CD-ROM disks rather than hard drives, etc. Some legal experts make much of the fact that modern techniques make selective altering of graphic images a veritable breeze. But there are ways around even image preservation on unalterable media (copy the data, with the alteration you want, onto a new CD-ROM and destroy the old one), and what''s really fundamentally different between this and old-fashioned forgery of original paperwork?

So overall I''d feel fairly comfortable preserving only imaged documentation (properly backed up and stored, of course) without maintaining the originals. If you have specific questions about particular types of documents, I''d suggest you consult an attorney specializing in electronic commerce law for the latest developments.



Liability insurance in Mexico

Q:

We recently held a meeting with current and potential truckload carriers to handle our intra-Mexico moves. Eighty percent of the moves are solely intra-Mexico. The balance are picked up in El Paso, Texas, or delivered to El Paso for interlining to our U.S. and Canadian plants.

We asked the carriers to send us their ACCORD or Mexican version of an ACCORD form to keep a file on their cargo liability insurance. We were told that Mexico does not require cargo liability insurance and that it is only available on a per-load basis, on specific request.

My experience has found all of Europe to be in line with U.S. cargo liability insurance requirements. Do you know if what we were told is true for intra-Mexico traffic?

A:

The carriers told you correctly that Mexico does not require motor carriers to take out cargo liability insurance. I can''t tell you whether such insurance is only available per shipment, but that''s certainly the norm.

There''s an economic reason for this. Mexican law assigns liability to motor carriers only up to a ceiling of 15 times the minimum daily wage in Mexico City per tonne - meaning, as Mexico uses the metric system, a "long" tonne of 2,204.62 pounds. When I checked recently the minimum daily wage was about $3 to $3.50 (the currency exchange rate fluctuates), so that this works out to 2.4 cents a pound at most. Which means maximum carrier liability for a typical load is less than $1,000. In addition, Mexican carriers are liable only if loss or damage results from their own negligence. So what would be the point of insurance?

As your carriers told you, you can buy additional insurance on a load-by-load basis. You must patronize Mexican insurers - foreign insurance carriers aren''t recognized by Mexican law - and you should be aware that collecting is not always easy. Mexican insurance law is such that it strongly favors the insurers - I won''t go into details but such is the case - who thus not uncommonly wind up "settling" claims for a good deal less than full value.

This applies to all of your intra-Mexico traffic. Your cross-border traffic that originates in Mexico also will be subject to the same limitation since it will be moving on Mexican bills of lading. There''s some case law to the effect that liability limitations in foreign B/Ls may not supersede U.S. law - see, Mexican Light & Power v. Texas Mexican Ry., 331 U.S. 731 (1947) - but it''s not directly on point as to this unprecedented circumstance of carriers operating in each others'' countries, and I''m not presently prepared to bank on it. On cross-border traffic originating at El Paso, however, a U.S. bill of lading will be issued subjecting the shipment to U.S. liability standards.

For more information on Mexican as well as other foreign liability standards, see my "Manager''s Guide to Freight Loss and Damage Claims" (Fort Valley, Va.; Loft Press, Third Edition, 2003).



-- Consultant, author and educator Colin Barrett is president of Barrett Transportation Consultants. Send your questions to him at P.O. Box 76, Morganton, Ga. 30560; phone, (706) 374-7201; fax, (706) 374-7202; e-mail, BarrettTrn@aol.com. Contact him to order the 536-page compiled edition of past Q&A columns, published in 2001, at $80 plus shipping.