Beware of Bill
By Henry E. Seaton
Reprinted from etrucker.com
The bill of lading
is the foundation of carrier-shipper relations. It's not only a receipt
for goods but a contract requiring the carrier to deliver the identified
shipment in good order in return for the shipper's promise to pay the
agreed rate. But this once uniform document now can be a source of headaches
for either party.
Until recently, shippers and carriers almost universally accepted the
Uniform Straight Bill of Lading, published by National Motor Freight
Classifications. In fact, even though the carrier technically issues
the bill of lading, shippers typically give preprinted bills of lading
to drivers for signature at the time of pickup. This procedure works
well if both shipper and carrier accept the uniform bill.
further deregulation has encouraged shippers increasingly to depart
from the standard bill of lading. The accepted rules of commerce, as
reflected in the uniform bill, are under attack. Numerous alternative
bills with unacceptable carrier duties and responsibilities are circulating
throughout the shipper community. Some shippers insert terms and conditions
that no thinking carrier would knowingly sign.
this environment, you should specify the bill of lading and the terms
and conditions that govern it. Ensure that those terms and conditions
supersede any nonconforming language in other documents the driver might
sign. You can do this with proper language in your rules tariffs and
in each written bilateral contract you execute. Where at all possible,
provide drivers with your own bills of lading for pickup and delivery
and show drivers how to prepare and execute them.
should use the current version of NMFC's USBOL as your standard bill.
The USBOL contains an updated statement of traditional rules of commerce.
It's an evenhanded and basic statement of transportation law that responsible
shippers and carriers should find acceptable. The USBOL addresses some
important liability issues by:
your prepared rules and rates by reference, unless they are specifically
superseded by signed contracts;
*Making the shipper or consignor responsible for payment of the freight
charges unless the bill clearly indicates otherwise. The consignee also
becomes liable for payment upon acceptance of the goods;
*Limiting your liability for loss or damage to the destination market
value of the goods unless you receive and accept notification of special
*Listing common-law exceptions from cargo liability;
*Requiring you to provide only reasonable dispatch. Unless you haul
produce, you aren't required to make deliveries in time for a particular
*Requiring shippers to present claims in writing within nine months
and file any lawsuit within two years and one day;
*Including rules for salvage and disposition of rejected freight;
*Providing for released rates, high-value articles and hazardous materials
*Establishing your lien right under the Bill of Lading Act.
How does all this bill of lading language affect you? It gives you recourse
when the consignee declines to pay your freight charges or refuses to
unload your truck during ordinary business hours. It limits your liability
when someone demands compensation for unforeseen losses. It backs up
your demand for accepted claims procedures and reasonable time limits
for the filing of claims. In short, the NMFC bill of lading avoids nasty
surprises and establishes generally accepted ground rules for conducting