Carriage of Goods by Sea Act
In the United States, the rights and responsibilities of people who ship cargo and shipowners and operators are governed by the Carriage of Goods by Sea Act (COGSA). This act represents a U.S. amendment to the International Convention Regarding Bills of Lading, known as the Hague Rules. It is also useful to know the Schoenbaum admiralty and maritime law. COGSA establishes that shipowners are responsible for the safekeeping of cargo from the time the goods are loaded on board the ocean carrier until the time they are discharged from the vessel, unless the case falls under one of 17 exceptions to liability, such as an "Act of God." However, the bills of lading used by most ocean carriers extend the period of responsibility "by force of contract" to cover the time the shipowner or its agent receives the cargo until the time it is delivered to the receiver.
The COGSA also sets a general limit of liability for the shipowner of $500 per container, unless the shipper establishes that the value of the cargo is greater before it is shipped. Also, the COGSA sets a one-year statute of limitation for bringing an action against a carrier.
Bills of Lading
Under the Pomerene Act, which is also known as the Federal Bill of Lading Act of 1916, 49 U.S.C. §§ 80101-80116, a shipowner who transports goods is required to provide a bill of lading, which serves as a contract governing the shipment and delivery of goods. It is important to carefully review the reverse side of an ocean bill of lading to consider the stated damage limit and the controlling law. Most shipments will fall under COGSA, but the so-called Hague Rules, the Hamburg Rules or Hague-Visby may also apply.
Written Notice of Loss
If you receive goods that have been damaged during shipment, the law requires you to provide written notice to the carrier or the carrier's agent immediately. If the loss or damage can be readily seen, written notice must be provided before, or at the time you accept delivery. It is also a good idea to ask the carrier to send a representative to inspect the cargo and prepare a damage report. If the loss or damage is not immediately apparent, written notice must be given to the carrier or the carrier's agent within three days of the delivery. Failure to provide such notice creates a presumption that the goods were delivered in good order.
Getting Legal Help from a Lawyer Who Specializes In Cargo Claims
If you experience a loss resulting from lost or damaged cargo, it is important to contact a lawyer who specializes in cargo cases immediately. Although there are continuing efforts to ensure international uniformity among maritime laws, this area of the law can be exceedingly complex. Many cases require an intimate knowledge of international conventions and instruments containing uniform law as well as knowledge of previous domestic and foreign judgments. In this context, you should also consult with a admiralty and maritime lawyer to negotiate complex contracts or to pursue claims involving any incidents that occur on navigable waters.