June 5, 2019

Determining liability through the optics of PACA

As much as we’d wish it were true, not every disputed situation is black and white coupled with a clear cut remedied path to make us whole again. While we have the ability to review PACA precedent decisions to review outcomes of historic rulings and determine our likelihood of prevailing in certain situations, there still leaves some inevitable grey area when accessing liability. Below is a recently received member inquiry with provided details to determine which party would be held liable:

A LTL truck making multiple stops pulls into our dock to load an order. Since driver’s are not allowed on the dock, our dock staff unloaded the partial pallets and put them to the side while the completed pallets were loaded in, failing to reload the partial pallets at the tail of the trailer. The driver pulls away from the dock, closes his doors and continues to contract destination. Who becomes liable for the partial pallets left behind?

Although it could be seen that there was joint liability in this particular case between the shipper and trucker, there is a fine line of sight to the shipper who’s employee unloaded the partial pallets and effectively owes the supplier in full for the forgotten partial pallets. PACA precedent decisions clearly favor the fact that the Employer takes responsibility for the employee’s actions (i.e. unloaded the partial pallets and failed to reload them). If the truck driver had been able to witness and been asked to acknowledge the loading/unloading process, the liability outcome may have been shifted. To limit this type of liability in the future, it is suggested that the shipper:

  1. Allow driver’s safe access to the loading dock and/or a designated area to observe loading and unloading
  2. Require the driver’s initials or signature on a preload checklist and/or bill of lading acknowledging the contents of the load AFTER loading is complete and BEFORE doors are closed
  3. Limit the claim value by moving the product and reselling the partial pallets to maximize the return and limit damages

Of course it should go without saying that no two disputes are ever the same and there are different outcomes that can be achieved based on the facts that are presented. If you ever come across a similar scenario or have any questions, comments or concerns that you would like guidance on, please don’t hesitate to contact Western Growers Trade Practices Department’s Bryan Nickerson at 949-885-2392 or by [email protected]. The timing is NOW as I stand ready and poised to assist our regular member companies in recouping monies that are owed.