By John Latta
Potentially devastating and often well-hidden legal problems are waiting for trucking companies that do not do their homework before signing contracts, according to Henry Seaton, a transportation industry lawyer speaking Tuesday, June 6, at the CCJ Spring Symposium in Tuscaloosa, Ala., sponsored by Randall-Reilly Publishing.
Seaton is an attorney with Seaton and Husk in Vienna, Va., which has represented motor carriers and brokers in the Washington, D.C. area for 30 years. The firm specializes in freight claims, freight charge collection, contracting and bankruptcy issues. “For most truckload carriers, these are the best of times,” he said. “Rates are up. After a number of lean years, most carriers are in the black. Yet, from a legal liability point of view, these are the worst of times.
“Today, a key for carriers is to be sure that they limit their liability to what they are liable for, and to be sure they are not potentially liable beyond that without being aware of it,” said Seaton, who writes a monthly column for CCJ Magazine. “It’s important for a carrier to establish its own terms and conditions, to make sure those procedures are always followed, and then to manage by exception. For example, if you change from hauling a relatively inexpensive product to hauling something like big-screen televisions, you would need to adjust your basic terms and conditions – for example, getting extra theft insurance.”
Seaton highlighted a number of circumstances where a less-than-thorough, non-vigilant carrier could face expensive legal problems:
“Limiting the risk involves making sure you do not assume another carrier’s liability, you keep your name off the bill of lading and you assume no liability other than arranging transportation with a contractor who is licensed, authorized and insured as per FMCSA regulations.”