There’s Going to Be a Claim

Doug Clark | Douglas Clark Consultants

We’ve all been there – crushed cartons, wet product, frozen product, hot product, shortages, late arrival, no arrival, etc., etc. An endless list and one that often requires adjusting the agreed-upon freight rate with a customer. Some adjustments are less than $100, while others are right at the limit of your applicable insurance deductible. One of the worst phrases you can hear from a customer is, “There’s a claim.” It’s like a punch in the gut.

ID: 478271989; Kokliang/Shutterstock.comIronically, in a lot of situations, it is relatively easy to retrace your steps, after the fact, on how the claim could have been avoided. Prevention begins with the education and participation of the driver picking up the load.

The driver is your first and sometimes your only link in protecting you and your company from an avoidable expense. Before backing to the loading dock, they should open the rear doors and inspect the empty trailer. The inspection should include checking for obstacles inside the trailer that could cause damage to the product while loading, including torn sidewalls, poorly secured scuff plates or anything protruding that could cause damage to the freight. The walk through of the empty trailer should also identify areas not sealed properly which could allow moisture in during transit.

If the trailer is refrigerated, check for torn chutes, or a chute that is not attached properly and is preventing consistent airflow. The ribs in the floor should be clean and allow for proper circulation. With a refrigerated load, the carrier needs to pre-cool the trailer before arriving at the shipping point. This will ensure that the refrigeration unit is operating properly before loading and will prevent a temperature fluctuation of the product while being loaded.

Different shippers have different rules when it comes to loading a carrier. Some of them will allow the driver to count the product as it goes on the truck. Some will not allow the driver to even be on the dock. If the driver is responsible for the count, the driver needs to be counting the product as it goes on the truck. The driver should check the condition of the product, looking for damaged cartons, shifted palletized product, etc. as it is loaded into the trailer. Again, looking for anything that could change the condition of the load while in normal transit before it reaches destination.

Many times, a driver will attempt to count the product, but cannot because it is shrink-wrapped coming out of the warehouse. Obviously, if there are different items shrink-wrapped on a pallet, it is virtually impossible to count the product on the pallet. The driver should request a breakdown of the pallets so that he can verify shipper counts he is liable for. Most shippers will not do this.

If the shipper refuses to do a breakdown, the driver can then request, from the shipper, a carrier liability of the pallet count only. If the shipper will not allow the driver to be on his dock and the driver is responsible for the count, have the shipper note “shipper load and count” on the bills of lading.

The best-laid plans, to prevent a claim, go out the window if the driver does not have a competent individual to communicate with immediately about a potential problem.

It is always desirable to have a sealed trailer. Some carriers have their own seals and will ask the shipper to attach them to the loaded trailer with the seal numbers noted on the shipper’s bill of lading. This is, of course, if the shipper does not provide seals.

On bills of lading for a refrigerated load there are notations fora transit temperature and a loading temperature. The shipper states, on the bills of lading, the product has been pre-cooled to the desired loading temperature for transit.

The driver will sign these bills of lading agreeing with the shipper that the temperature of the commodity is being loaded on the truck at 38 degrees.

In many instances, the temperature that the driver is verifying with his signature, agreeing with the shipper, is incorrect. The transportation company will carry the load at the desired transit temperature, in accordance with the bills of lading. When the carrier attempts to make delivery, the receiver informs the carrier that the load is hot. It is extremely important that the driver pulp the temperature of the product going into the trailer. If the loading temperature does not match the product temperature, indicated on the bills of lading, then the exact loading temperature should be notated on the bill of lading by the shipper. In addition to this, your customer should be notified of this discrepancy immediately, if possible.

When the carrier reaches the destination, the driver needs to supervise the unloading of the freight he is responsible for. Again, if the driver is not allowed to supervise the unloading, the receiver should accept responsibility for the product count. It is not over until the receiver has returned a signed clean bill of lading to the driver.

Finally, the driver must have someone to talk to when a potential problem occurs. The best laid plans, to prevent a claim, go out the window if the driver does not have a competent individual to communicate with immediately about a potential problem. It is your company’s responsibility for the driver to know, before he picks the load up, who to contact if there are any questions about the load.

Some Common Sense Actions to Prevent Common Problems

When a driver goes in to pick up or deliver a load, the mindset of the driver must be that there will be a claim. Not a possibility, but a probability.

The only way to protect yourself is to take the offensive approach of a load tendered to your company. The driver must be utilized, in this line haul, to eliminate a reduction in the freight payment due to you for services rendered.

The defensive position of your company comes into play after the shipper, receiver or customer has told you “there’s going to be a claim.”

Doug Clark is Owner of Douglas Clark Consultants in Dallas, TX. He may be reached at dougclark@swbell.net.