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SURFACE TRANSPORTATION BOARD

Lost or Damaged Items

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.


Loss and Damage Claims Against a Moving Company

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:

  • Be made in writing (or submitted electronically)
  • Identify the shipment (such as by customer name, address, date and/or bill of lading number)
  • Contain an assertion that the moving company is liable for the loss or damage; and,
  • Ask for compensation for a specific dollar amount (such as the total repair or replacement costs borne by the customer).

How Moving Companies Can Limit Liability for Loss and Damage

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:

  • Informs the customer of the opportunity to contract with the mover for “full-value” protection, meaning full compensation for the replacement of goods lost, damaged, or needing repair;
  • Provides the customer with the option to waive full-value protection; and
  • Provides the customer with the choice of released rates limiting the mover’s liability (currently $0.60 per pound) for each item lost, damaged, or needing repair.

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.


Deductibles

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.


High-Value Items

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.


Private Insurance

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.


More Information

  • Interstate movers who wish to learn more about liability under federal law and the STB rules for released rates should consult 49 U.S.C. § 14706, and the Surface Transportation Board’s January 10, 2012 decision in the case entitled Released Rates of Motor Common Carriers of Household Goods, Docket No. RR 999 (Amendment No. 5).
  • Customers wishing to learn more about liability and filing claims for loss, damage, and delayed delivery are encouraged to review the “Your Rights and Responsibilities When You Move” guidance booklet prepared by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA), available here.
  • The FMCSA webpage on valuation and insurance for household goods moving, including their brochure.
  • Movers and potential customers can also learn more by visiting the websites of the American Moving and Storage Association.