In general, a moving company is responsible if it loses or damages a customer’s household possessions during the move. In this situation, the customer can file a claim with the mover to request financial compensation for the loss or damage. If the moving company denies the claim, in whole or in part, the customer may need to file a lawsuit or pursue arbitration in order to obtain compensation. Also, in this situation, it may be necessary for the customer to hire an attorney.
In making an initial claim against a moving company, it is important to pay attention to the company’s claim-filing rules and deadlines. However, under federal law, the time period allowed for filing a claim cannot be less than 9 months from the date of delivery. Also, federal regulations establish the minimum requirements for making a claim. The claim must:
Federal law allows a moving company to limit its liability for loss and damage by offering what are known as “released rates.” This means that in exchange for paying a lower rate, the customer releases the moving company from full liability and instead allows the moving company to limit its liability. The limited liability level is regulated by the STB and is currently set at $0.60 per pound for each item. Based on this liability structure, moving companies typically offer two different rate levels: higher rates for full-value protection and lower rates for limited liability protection.
The STB established procedures that a mover must follow in order to limit its liability. Under the STB’s rules, a mover’s bill of lading must include a “valuation statement” that:
Customers should be aware that choosing the released rate option significantly reduces the mover’s financial responsibility for loss or damage. For example, the $0.60 per pound liability level typically would not cover the actual value of expensive electronics, such as flat-screen television weighing twenty pounds (20lbs. x $0.60 per pound = $12.00) or valuable artwork, such as a marble statue weighing ten pounds (10lbs. x $0.60 per pound = $6.00). As a practical matter, a customer may wish to consider personally transporting high-value items (jewelry, artwork, electronics, personal computers, antiques) and items of sentimental value (family albums) rather than including them among the possessions transported by the mover.
Movers must apply full-value protection to the transportation of a customer’s possessions unless the customer expressly waives the right to such protection. Also, a mover must make available transportation rates that include full-value protection.
Interstate movers must offer customers a full-value protection rate with no deductible. Movers can also offer a full-value rate giving the customer the option of selecting a deductible (but movers cannot apply deductibles if the customer opts for limited liability). Selecting a deductible typically will reduce the rate paid for the move.
If a customer opts for full-value protection, a mover can require the customer to give notice when high-value items will be part of the customer’s shipment. In this situation, the mover can include with its bill of lading a form titled “Declaration of Article(s) of Extraordinary (Unusual) Value,” on which the customer must list items exceeding $100 per pound in value. If a customer fails to list high-value items on the form, and if these items are lost or damaged during the move, the mover is only liable for $100 per pound for each item. The STB does not require movers to use the high-value declaration form, but, given that the form is intended to provide movers with advance notice of high-value items within a move, movers are encouraged to use the declaration.
A customer may wish to consider obtaining private insurance coverage for purposes of losses that could arise during a move. Selecting a moving company’s rate for full-value protection is not the same as purchasing a separate liability policy from a private insurance company.