Water Damages Freight, Trailer

Water Damages Freight, Trailer

Copyright 2004, Traffic World, Inc.


We are a third party logistics company and have recently prepared a claim on behalf of our client for water damage, with a twist.

About four months ago our client had a trailer rental company drop a trailer in their yard for loading. The paperwork showed the trailer had last been serviced about four months earlier. Although they did not request it, the rental company dropped a vented trailer. It would appear our client''s shipping dock did not make any inspection of the trailer prior to loading.

Four days later we contracted a carrier to pull the trailer from Michigan to a point in Maryland for final delivery. The contracted carrier did a pre-trip inspection of the trailer with no discrepancies in appearance. The trailer doors were closed and sealed with our client''s shipping dock personnel present.

Upon delivery to the consignee a week later the driver noted there was a strong steady cold rain. With the consignee present the seal was broken, the trailer doors opened and the freight appeared OK. The two men sealed the trailer back up and the driver went on his way.

Our client was on site in Maryland the next day and found the trailer and material wet. The material was sorted and the damage left on that trailer.

A different carrier was contracted to pull an empty trailer from the consignee around two days later, but hooked up to this one with the damaged material in error. Some distance down the road the driver realized there was something moving in the back of the trailer. He opened the doors to find standing water, the damaged freight, and some minor trash. We were alerted and the trailer was returned to our client a few days later. We were on site and did a light leak test to discover the vent was open. There were beads of water on the ceiling and material. A portion of the fiberglass ceiling had been scraped through to the plywood and was soaked and dark in color.

We then moved the material to our location and inspected the damage further. These are laminated table tops/work surfaces. All of the cardboard boxes were still wet and the internal wood was swollen, rendering them useless. The value is around $6,000.

My question is, would all three - shipper, trailer rental company, and carrier - hold a part of this claim scenario for recovery? Or would just the carrier and the trailer rental company be liable? We have received a declination from the carrier stating it was not their trailer, but nothing from the trailer rental company.


I guess I can understand why you filed these claims: you have an upset shipper who''s trying to cast blame elsewhere and you''d like to keep your shipper as happy as you can.

What''s harder to understand is why you expect anybody to actually pay the claims. I mean, on what possible basis would you consider either the carrier or the rental company liable for this damage?

The carrier''s quite proper declination says it all from that perspective; how can it be held responsible for the consequences of any defect in the equipment supplied to it by the shipper? To be sure, the carrier need not be negligent or otherwise at fault to incur liability; but it is excused if the damage resulted from some act of the shipper, such as deficient packaging or loading - a category into which a leaky shipper-supplied trailer surely falls.

The rental company, unlike the carrier, is liable only for damages resulting from its own negligence. Had it furnished your shipper a defective trailer you might have a case, especially if the defect was difficult to discover in non-rainy conditions. But it didn''t do that; it simply gave the shipper a vented trailer. Whether out of ignorance or plain laxity, the shipper''s personnel didn''t make sure the vent was closed, which is what let the rain in. But how can that be the rental company''s fault?

Indeed, if there''s any valid claim here it''s the rental company''s against your shipper for damage to the trailer. Because of leaving the vent open in heavy rain - and perhaps also because of careless loading, given your description of interior damage to the fiberglass ceiling - your shipper returned the trailer in distinctly poorer condition than it had been. If the company hasn''t presented such a claim to your shipper, that''s the very best you can hope for.

I won''t go into that fiasco of the trailer being mistakenly released to a carrier who was there to pick up another unit, save to say that whoever is responsible owes the carrier whatever charges apply for that aborted movement. If that party is your shipper, it gets to pony up for this further blunder.

There''s a lesson to be learned from all this. I suppose the shipper''s motivation for renting the trailer separately was to save a few bucks in transportation costs. But if it''s going to try to save money this way, it''s going to have to accept the additional responsibility that goes with that approach. That means not only taking elementary precautions to secure the trailer and its contents but also accepting the added economic risk associated with providing private equipment to carriers. Otherwise it''s a lot better off just buying regular transportation service.

-- 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.