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Understanding Cargo Losses In Maritime Law

Law Blog

Cargo losses are common problems in maritime law. Anyone who's shipping anything through maritime regions needs to understand how the law addresses cargo losses. Here is a look at what brings a loss into maritime law and how plaintiffs and defendants are likely to handle cases.

When Do Losses Fall Under Maritime Law?

Unsurprisingly, something only falls under maritime law if it involves seagoing vessels. Given how much world trade crosses the sea, this places many cargo losses squarely in maritime law. Jurisdiction can be a challenging issue in maritime law. Particularly, claimants often shop for the most favorable jurisdictions to maximize their potential damages. However, a few things will limit the jurisdiction.

In American law, the Carriage of Goods by Sea Act provides relief for most foreign trade that originates from or arrives in the US. These are additional protections above the rules of international maritime law. Issues involving trade between two US ports in different states or territories will likely fall under the Jones Act. Most trade involving traffic in just one state will be under that state's laws. Talk to a maritime lawyer before choosing to file in a jurisdiction.

Sources of Claims

Typically, a maritime lawyer will encourage legal action if the carrier violated their duty of care. A cargo carrier has a responsibility to make sure its vessel is seaworthy. Likewise, it must take reasonable steps to competently crew the ship. The carrier also needs to make reasonable efforts to secure cargo to prevent damage, theft, and other losses. It also needs to make every effort to avoid preventable collisions during transit and in port.

The bill of lading is the central document in most cases. It states what the goods were, where they originated, and where they were going. The bill should also state the condition of the cargo at the time it arrived on the ship. If there's a disparity between the bill of lading and the condition of goods at the destination, the customer has the right to demand compensation.

Potential Defenses

As with many commercial activities, the law recognizes that some things are out of a company's control. If record waves tossed the ship during transit, the carrier might argue it had no way to predict the potential damage. Similarly, the carrier might defend itself by claiming that the government lawfully seized the shipment. Acts of war or piracy also present possible defenses.

Carriers also frequently point to the customer's negligence. If the customer shipped goods that could easily spoil on a non-refrigerated ship, the carrier probably won't be liable. Also, carriers aren't liable for substandard packing.

Contact a local maritime lawyer to learn more. 


11 July 2023