''There is a Claim''

''There is a Claim''

Copyright 2004, Traffic World, Inc.

Crushed cartons, wet product, frozen product, hot product, shortages, late arrival, no arrival. We have all been there. Among the worst words you can hear from a customer are "there is a claim."

In a lot of situations it is relatively easy to retrace your steps after the fact and see how a claim could have been avoided. Prevention begins with the education and participation of the driver picking up the load. First, the driver should inspect the trailer when opening the doors to back in for loading.

The inspection should include checking for obstacles inside the trailer that could cause damage to the product while loading. Torn sidewalls, poorly secured scuff plates or anything protruding could cause damage to the freight.

The walk-through of the empty trailer also should identify areas not sealed properly that could allow moisture in during transit. If the trailer is refrigerated, the driver should check for torn chutes or improperly attached chutes that could prevent consistent airflow. The ribs in the floor should be clean, allowing proper circulation. With a refrigerated load, the carrier must precool the trailer before arriving at shipping point. This will insure that the refrigeration unit is operating properly before loading and will prevent a temperature fluctuation of the product while being loaded.

Different shippers have different rules when it comes to loading a carrier. Some of them will allow the driver to count the product as it goes on the truck. Some will not even allow the driver on the dock.

If the driver is responsible for the count, the driver must count the product as it goes on the truck. The driver should check the condition of the product, looking for damaged cartons and shifted palletized product as it is loaded into the trailer.

Check for anything that could change the condition of the load while in normal transit before it reaches destination. Many times a driver will attempt to count the product but cannot because it is shrink-wrapped. Obviously, if there are different items shrink-wrapped on a pallet, it is virtually impossible to count the product on the pallet.

I would suggest that you have the driver request a break down of the pallets so that he can verify shipper counts he is liable for. We know that most shippers will not do this. The driver can then request, from the shipper, a carrier liability of the pallet count only. If the shipper will not allow you to be on his dock and you are responsible for the count, have them note on the bills of lading, "shipper load and count."

It is always desirable to have a sealed trailer. Some carriers have their own seals and ask the shipper to attach this seal to the loaded trailer and note the seal number on the shipper''s bill of lading. This, of course, is if the shipper does not provide seals.

For a refrigerated load, the bill of lading should list a transit temperature and a loading temperature. The shipper states on the bills of lading the product has been precooled to the desired loading temperature for transit. The driver signs these bills agreeing with the shipper.

In many instances, the loading temperature that the driver is verifying by signing - agreeing with the shipper - is incorrect. The transportation company carries the load at the desired transit temperature in accordance with the bills of lading. When the carrier attempts to make delivery, the receiver informs the carrier that "the load is hot." This is why it is extremely important that the driver check the temperature of the product going into the trailer. If the loading temperature does not match the product temperature indicated on the bills of lading, the shipper should note the exact loading temperature on the bill of lading. In addition, your customer should be notified of this discrepancy immediately, if possible.

When the carrier reaches the destination, the driver must supervise the unloading of the freight he is responsible for. If the driver is not allowed to supervise the unloading, the receiver should accept responsibility for the product count. It is not over until the receiver has returned a signed, clean bill of lading to the driver.

Last, the driver must have someone to talk to when a potential problem occurs. The driver should know before pickup who will be contacted if there is a question regarding the load that is about to become the responsibility of your company.

These are commonsense actions to prevent common problems.

When a driver goes in to pick up or deliver a load, the driver should be prepared to respond to a claim. The only way to protect your company is to take the initiative. The driver has to be used to eliminate a reduction in the freight payment due to you for services rendered.

The defensive position comes into play after the shipper, receiver or customer has told you "there is going to be a claim."

-- Clark is the President of Cargo-Master, a transportation brokerage with 20 offices nationwide. He is on the board of directors of the Transportation Intermediaries Association and chairs the Agricultural and Refrigerated Conference for the TIA. Cargo-Master is affiliated with the Golman-Hayden Companies Inc., a large produce brokerage firm with headquarters in Dallas.