CaliforniaIn today's economic environment, shipping costs are now receiving the same amount of attention customarily reserved by company management for such traditional subjects as sales, marketing, product development and manufacturing.  Shipping expenses for many companies can reach millions of dollars annually.  As a result, companies risk losing significant sums in disputes with carriers unless the persons charged with overseeing these disputes have a basic knowledge of shipping law, particularly those laws governing the deadlines for bringing lawsuits to recover losses for damaged or lost goods and overcharges.

Shipping disputes are governed by federal law which applies equally to all states and is designed to promote a degree of uniformity and predictability in the relationships between the shipper (typically the seller) and the carrier.  The laws are complex and require anyone involved in any segment of the company's shipping process to have an understanding of some basic legal concepts.

Unlike the statute of limitations found in most states which typically permit lawsuits involving written contracts and invoices to be filed as many as four years after the dispute arises, federal law significantly limits the time within which claims can be brought against a carrier on a shipping dispute.  For example, lawsuits to recover overcharges must be filed within 18 months after the claim accrues.  Additionally, federal law allows the carrier under its contract with the shipper to shorten the period within which to submit a claim to the carrier for lost or damaged property to as little as nine months, and to shorten the period for filing a lawsuit to recover damages for lost or damaged property to as little as two years.  If companies do not carefully scrutinize the terms of their contracts with their carriers and take note of these time limitations, they risk losing thousands of dollars in otherwise recoverable losses.  In short, understanding that shipping disputes are governed by more accelerated limitations periods can save a company significant time and expense in the event a shipping problem should arise.

To be sure, there are many traps for the uninformed in this area - too many to review in this article.  If you have any questions, please feel free to contact the author.

Larry-D-headshot-web-name-Feel free to contact the author with any questions:  


Lawrence E. Duffy at
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Or any WFBM attorney with whom you are working.