When a flatbed trucker accepts a load, he or she is also accepting responsibility for it from the moment it leaves the yard to the moment it arrives at its destination. It doesn’t matter whether the driver is an independent contractor or a motor carrier employee. Should the load be damaged in any way, claims are made against the driver or his or her employer. At least that is the way it’s supposed to work.
Independent contractors frequently work through brokers who help line up their loads. Unlike motor carriers who utilize dispatchers to line up loads for drivers, independent contractors are self-employed individuals who do everything on their own. Brokers offer a valuable service by doing the legwork of searching for loads on behalf of drivers.
The question on the minds of many brokers is how much liability they assume for cargo when they connect shipper with driver. In a single word, none. Yet that does not stop shippers from making claims against brokers when things go wrong.
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How the Law Views Brokers
Brokers in the trucking industry are no different from stockbrokers. They work with shippers to compile lists of loads that need to be transported. They work with truckers willing to accept those loads. The broker essentially acts as a middleman that brings shipper and trucker together. That’s it. The broker is not liable for any actions taken by either party.
The broker does not take responsibility for loading cargo onto the back of a flatbed trailer. It is not the broker’s employee who ties the load down, throws a tarp over it, and buttons everything up tightly. The broker is not responsible for using blocks, making sure corner protectors are utilized, or anything else. All that responsibility is on the driver.
Mytee Products, an Ohio company that specializes in cargo control for truck drivers, says that cargo is well taken care of most of the time. Truck drivers take a great deal of pride in delivering cargo in the same condition it was in when loaded. But occasionally things go wrong. When they do, the shipper’s beef is with the driver rather than the broker.
Many Brokers Just Don’t Know
The difficulty a lot of brokers have boils down to a lack of knowledge. According to an excellent article published by JOC in November 2017, there is no specific statute that absolves brokers from liability. Nor is there a plethora of history courts can draw on. A lot of brokers do not know this. A lot of them don’t know they have a very strong case if claims ever go to court. So rather than fighting said claims, they simply pay them to keep the customer happy.
This is not necessarily the wisest strategy. When brokers pay claims just to avoid litigation, they also encourage shippers to make future claims. This is simply inappropriate. As the JOC piece points out, you do not sue your stockbroker because your favorite company’s stock tanks.
Shippers Don’t Know Either
The JOC article also points out that many shippers are ignorant of their legal relationship with brokers too. They do not understand the difference between dealing with a broker as opposed to an independent contractor or motor carrier. They just assume that because they deal with brokers to line up loads, they would also deal with those same brokers to settle claims.
Above and beyond truck tarps and ratchet straps, it appears as though the trucking industry needs some sort of established regulation settling who is liable for what. Maybe that would reduce unwarranted claims against brokers.