goods carried. In this way, the liability of certain carriers has largely become standardized, at least in international carriage of goods.
Parties are free to stipulate that the carrier shall be liable in excess of any statutory limitation, but clauses that are designed to reduce the liability of the carrier below statutory limits are ordinarily null and void. Statutory limitations cover both direct and indirect losses incurred by shippers or consignees. In most legal systems, the benefit of statutory limitation of liability is unavailable if the goods have been delivered to the wrong individual or if the carrier is guilty of either intentional misconduct or gross negligence.
The liability of a maritime carrier for loss or damage to goods carried under a bill of lading is limited in most countries to a specified amount per package or unit by application of the provisions of the Brussels Convention of 1924 or by municipal legislation containing rules similar to those of the convention. The liability of air carriers for loss or damage to goods carried in international trade is almost everywhere controlled by the provisions of the Warsaw Convention of 1929, as amended by the blague Protocol of 1955. Air carriage in domestic trade is subject either to the rules of the international convention or to municipal legislation patterned after the model of the convention. In most countries the liability of railroad carriers is limited by legislation or administrative regulations that regularly become part of the contract of carriage. International carriage of goods by railroad is largely subject to the various Berne Conventions, the first of which was adopted in 1890, Most European nations have adhered to these conventions.
Components of the carriage of goods
The law of carriage of goods covers a variety of matters. Delay and misdelivery
In all legal systems, carriers incur liability for delay in delivering the goods to the consignee. Statutes, international conventions, administrative regulations, or even contractual agreements may fix the period of transportation with reference to the applicable means of carriage and determine the consequences of the delay. Under the law of contracts, failure of the carrier to deliver the goods within the prescribed period of time will be treated as a breach of contract.
In common-law jurisdictions, if the delay is caused by a deviation, the carrier is ordinarily answerable for damages. A deviation takes place when the carrier leaves the route that he has expressly or impliedly agreed to follow or when he goes past his destination. In civil-law jurisdictions carriers are not bound to follow any particular route in the absence of
special legislation or contractual agreement. Thus, a deviation from the normal route does not itself constitute a fault of the carrier; if the deviation causes a delay, the carrier will be liable only if he is at fault.
Like delay, misdelivery engages the responsibility of the carrier. Misdelivery is the delivery of the goods by the carrier to the wrong person or to the wrong place.
Dangerous goods are those that, from their nature, are liable to cause damage to persons, to means of transport, or to other goods. In all legal systems, the carriage of dangerous goods has given rise to distinct problems and to the development of special rules.
In civil-law countries, legislation or administrative regulations define categories of goods considered to be dangerous and either exclude their shipment by public carriers or determine the conditions under which they may be shipped. In common-law jurisdictions, the shipper is liable to the carrier for all damage caused by dangerous goods delivered for shipment, unless he has declared the dangerous nature of the goods at the time of delivery, and the carrier has accepted them with knowledge of their nature.
Components of the carriage of goods
Carriage by two or more carriers
Goods frequently reach their destination after they have passed through the hands of two or more carriers. This may happen when the shipper has contracted with several carriers, when the shipper has authorized one of the carriers to act as his agent with other carriers, or when the carrier, without authority, delivers the goods to another carrier.
If the carrier, without authority, delivers the goods to another carrier, he is liable to the shipper for any misdelivery by the second carrier and for any loss or damage suffered by the owner of the goods during the time in which the goods were in the possession of the second carrier. This means that the carrier cannot relieve himself from liability by performing the contract through the services of an agent. Moreover, delivery of the goods to another carrier may be a breach of contract by virtue of an implied or express condition that the carriage shall be effected by the vehicles of the carrier. Such a condition is implied in maritime transports.
The law strives everywhere to secure payment of the freight to a carrier who has carried the goods to their destination. In common-law jurisdictions, the carrier may have to this effect a common-law lien, a
statutory lien or even a contractual lien. In civil-law jurisdictions, the carrier has, ordinarily, a privilege on the things carried.
A common carrier in common-law jurisdictions has a common-law lien under which he is entitled to retain possession of the goods until earned freight is paid to him. The carrier is not entitled to sell the goods or to use them; parties, however, may agree that the carrier shall have an active lien namely, that he shall have the right to sell the goods. Thus, in maritime carriage in the United States, the shipowner is clearly entitled to seize and sell the goods carried by him in case of nonpayment of the freight. Parties may agree that the carrier shall have no lien at all or that he shall have a general lien on the goods carried, namely, a lien covering debts other than the pending freight. After the lien is exercised, the carrier has the rights and duties of a bailee. He may thus be liable for loss or damage occasioned by his negligence, and he may be entitled to recover expenses that were reasonably necessary for the preservation of the goods.
Carriers in civil-law jurisdictions ordinarily have a privilege on the goods carried by them for the payment of the freight and of incidental expenses. In France and in systems following the French model, this privilege is available only to professional carriers who carry goods by contract of carriage. The civil-law privilege differs from a common-law lien in that it confers on the carrier power and authority to sell the goods for the satisfaction of his claims. The privilege covers the whole shipment as determined by the documents of transport and is extinguished upon delivery of the goods to the consignee. Quite apart from the privilege the carrier in civil-law jurisdictions may be entitled, under the general law of obligations, to refuse delivery of the goods until payment of the freight; moreover, he may secure payment of the freight by a variety of contractual arrangements.
Carrier's role as warehouseman and bailee
In all legal systems, the peculiar liabilities imposed on carriers extend only for the duration of the carriage, that is. from the time the goods are delivered to the carrier for shipment until the carrier has taken all reasonable steps to deliver them to the consignee. This means that the carrier is not under his liability as a carrier for the whole time during which the goods may be in his possession. Indeed, goods may be delivered to a carrier for safekeeping before the carriage begins or after it terminates in accordance with the terms of a special contract that may qualify as bailment in common-law jurisdictions and as a deposit in civil-law countries. Further, goods may be in the possession of the carrier because the consignee has
unjustifiedly refused to take delivery, in which case the carrier may occupy the position of an involuntary bailee or depositary.
Generally, a carrier who is in possession of the goods before the beginning or after the end of the carriage is a warehouseman, and he is liable accordingly. In common-law jurisdictions the liability of a warehouseman is that of an ordinary bailee. In most cases a bailee, namely, a person entrusted with the goods of another, is not liable for the loss of or damage to the goods in his possession, unless the prejudice was caused by his intentional misconduct or negligence. In civil-law jurisdictions, if the parties agree that the carrier shall be in possession of the goods as a warehouseman before the beginning or after the end of the carriage, they form in effect a contract of deposit for reward, which is distinguishable from a contract of carriage. The elements of the contract of deposit and the rights and liabilities of the parties are dealt with in civil codes; exoneration clauses are valid under the conditions of the general law, and the period of limitation of actions is longer than one year. The depositary' for reward is generally liable for intentional misconduct and negligence.
Measure of damages
Damages for the breach or nonperformance of a contract of carriage ordinarily are determined by application of the general rules of the law of contracts. Exceptional provisions applicable in case of breach of a contract of carriage are rare; they are mostly encountered in international conventions.
Bills of lading
Many shipments are made under bills of lading, issued by the carrier to the shipper upon delivery of the goods for shipment. The shipper is entitled to demand issuance of a bill of lading, unless his right is excluded by the contract of carriage. The bill of lading is, in the first place, an acknowledgment by a carrier that he has received the goods for shipment. Secondly, the bill of lading is either a contract of carriage or evidence of a contract of carriage. Thirdly, if the bill of lading is negotiable, as usually happens in carriage by sea, it controls possession of the goods and is one of the indispensable documents in financing the movement of commodities and merchandise throughout the world.
The bill of lading usually states the quantity, weight, measurements, and other pertinent information concerning the goods shipped. It frequently contains the statement that the goods have been shipped in apparent good order and condition. In this case, the carrier is not allowed to contradict the statement as to defects that were reasonably ascertainable at the time of
delivery against an endorsee of the bill who relied on the statement. The bill of lading may be signed by the master or by a broker as agent of the carrier. As a receipt, the bill of lading is prima facie evidence that the goods have been delivered to the carrier; the burden of proof of nondelivery thus rests on the carrier
In some jurisdictions the bill of lading is regarded as the contract of carriage itself. In other jurisdictions it is regarded merely as evidence of the contract of carriage; hence, oral testimony may be admissible to vary the terms of the contract evidenced by the bill of lading. When goods are shipped under a charter party or other document and a bill of lading is issued to cover the same goods, the bill of lading may ordinarily be regarded as a mere receipt. The terms of the contract are embodied in the charter party or other document, unless the parties intended to vary the terms of the agreement by the issuance of a bill of lading. A bill of lading that has been endorsed is ordinarily considered to contain the terms of the contract between the carrier and the endorsee.
At common law, a bill of lading functions as a semi-negotiable instrument. Delivery of the bill of lading to a transferee for valuable consideration transfers the ownership of the goods to the transferee, but the transferee cannot acquire a better title than that of the transferor. Under statutes, however, and under international conventions, bills of lading are in all legal systems fully negotiable instruments, unless they show on their face that they are not negotiable. When a bill of lading is negotiable, it confers a privileged status on the good faith purchaser, known as the holder in due course. A carrier who has issued a nonnegotiable bill of lading normally discharges his duty by delivering the goods to the named consignee; the consignee need not produce the bill or even be in possession of it. But a carrier who has issued a negotiable bill of lading will be discharged only by delivery to the holder of the bill, because, in a way, the goods are locked up in the bill of lading. The carrier who delivers goods without the bill of lading remains liable in common-law jurisdictions to anyone who has purchased the bill for value and in good faith, before or after the improper delivery. In civil-law jurisdictions, in case of an improper delivery, the carrier may remain liable to the endorsee of the bill of lading, even if the endorsee is himself not the legal owner of the bill but merely a finder or a thief.
Freight or forwarding agents
Shippers frequently engage the services of freight or forwarding agents, namely, persons who undertake for a reward to have the goods carried and delivered at their destination. The services of these persons are
ordinarily engaged when the carriage of the goods involves successive carriers or use of successive means of transport.
A forwarding agent makes contracts of carriage for his principal. He may be a carrier or he may be merely a forwarding agent. When a carrier enters into a contract with the shipper by which he undertakes to carry goods in circumstances that involve an obligation on his part to hand over the goods to another carrier, he may be regarded as acting to some extent in the capacity of a forwarding agent. Conversely, when a forwarding agent carries the goods himself, he is to that extent a carrier and incurs the liabilities of a carrier.
In common-law jurisdictions a forwarding agent who is not a carrier is not responsible for what happens to the goods once they are handed over to a carrier with whom the forwarding agent has made a contract for his principal. By his transaction with the carrier, the forwarding agent establishes a direct contractual relationship between his principal and the carrier. Under the principles of the law of agency, the forwarding agent is under obligation toward his principal to conclude the contract on the usual terms. He is under no obligations, in the absence of an express contractual provision, to insure the goods. If, exceptionally, a forwarding agent acts as a carrier throughout the journey and uses other carriers on his own account, he is liable to the owner for any loss or damage to the goods during carriage. The extent of his liability depends on whether he is a common carrier or a contract carrier. If he is a common carrier, his liability to the owner of the goods may be heavier than the liabilities he can enforce against the carriers he has engaged.
In civil-law jurisdictions forwarding agents are clearly distinguished from carriers, and the contracts they make are clearly distinguishable from contracts of carriage. The profession of a forwarding agent, however, is not exclusive; thus, most frequently, carriers qualify as forwarding agents and vice versa. Л forwarding agent has ordinarily a privilege on the goods under his control that is much broader and more effective than the privilege of the carrier. He has, in the absence of contrary contractual provision freedom of choice of the means of transport and of particular carriers. His main obligation is to have the goods carried to their destination and delivered to the consignee. In the discharge of this obligation he is generally entitled to engage the services of another forwarding agent. The forwarding agent is liable to his principal for any violation of his obligations resulting from negligence or intentional misconduct. He is relieved from liability if he proves that the loss or damage was occasioned by irresistible force. The liability of the forwarding agent for negligence may be excluded by
contractual stipulations but not his liability for grave fault and intentional misconduct. A forwarding agent is considered as a carrier to the extent that he carries the goods himself and to that extent he incurs the liabilities of a carrier. In contrast with the rule in common-law jurisdictions, the forwarding agent in civil-law countries is fully responsible for loss or damage suffered by the goods in the hands of carriers that the forwarding agent has engaged for the performance of the contract with his principal, unless the services of the particular carrier were requested by the principal. The liability of the forwarding agent does not exceed that of the carrier he has engaged, and, if the carrier is exonerated by virtue of an excepted cause, so is the forwarding agent.