No one wants to talk about it — or even think about it — but the fact is, when you ship less than truckload (LTL), chances are you’re eventually going to have to file a freight claim.
LTL is a high-touch operation, and every time your freight changes hands, trucks or facilities, it is going to be exposed to a certain amount of risk. It could arrive damaged, short of its original shipping volume or not at all.
Common Types of LTL Claims
- Packaging damage
- Forklift holes
- Lost freight
While you might not be able to avoid lost or damaged freight entirely, we want you to know exactly what to do when you encounter it.
We’ve prepared an LTL freight claims crash course in eight lessons that will teach you why losses and damages occur in LTL, how to minimize or avoid them, and how to proceed when they happen.
Lesson #1: Expect More Claims in LTL Because Your Freight Is Handled a Lot
The main causes of losses and damages in LTL shipping can be connected to the major ways it differs from full truckload shipping.
First and foremost, LTL shipments don’t just move from point A to point B. Most LTL trucking companies operate with a hub-and-spoke model in which freight is consolidated at central terminals before being redistributed for linehaul in lanes that will carry them to their destination terminal.
Throughout its journey, a single LTL shipment may pass through as many as five or six facilities, getting unloaded and reloaded every time. At the end of this process, freight is transloaded one final time and driven to its delivery destination by a final mile driver.
That’s a lot of hands on your freight, and a lot of opportunities for it to be dropped, bumped, crushed or otherwise mishandled.
Lesson #2: Higher Freight Classes Are More Prone to Damage
One of the reasons freight classes and NMFC codes exist is to alert LTL carriers to how damage-prone the freight they are handling is.
As a result, damage claims tend to be more frequent at higher freight classes. This is the most fragile, least dense freight: ping pong balls, flat-screen TVs, assembled furniture and so on.
A pallet of delicate electronics needs to be handled much more carefully than a pallet of nails. If you crunch the packaging on the latter or even drop it off a forklift, those nails are probably going to be just fine.
This is a great preview of our next lesson: Particularly when you’re packaging high-class freight for LTL, pay close attention to packaging.
Lesson #3: Packaging Matters if You Want to Avoid Damages
Because so much of LTL shipping is out of your hands, it’s especially important to excel at the parts of it you can control.
This means taking pains to package your freight as securely as possible and be as clear as you can about which pallets are most in danger of being damaged.
Here are some tips to be sure your freight is as secure as it can be when it embarks on its LTL journey:
Wrap it up tight.
The dollars and cents you’ll save by skimping on pallet wrap are nothing compared to the losses you can incur when a pallet of glassware shatters on impact. Give your freight the padding it needs, every time.
Keep it inside the pallet.
If you think you can get away with a bit of overhang, you’re wrong. LTL drivers will pack their trailers as tight as possible to maximize the freight they can get inside, and anything that sticks out is at risk of getting crushed by the pallet next to it.
Stack it evenly.
Trailers are three-dimensional, and drivers will stack pallets to utilize all of their available volume. If yours winds up on the bottom, it may be crushed if it can’t evenly distribute the weight of the pallet above it.
Label it clearly.
See above re: the three-dimensional space of a trailer. If your freight can’t have anything stacked on top of it, the driver absolutely must be able to see this quickly and clearly.
Use the checklist below when you’re packing your pallets for LTL to avoid as many freight claims as you can.
LTL Packaging Checklist
Is your freight…
- Within the dimensions of the pallet with no overhang?
- Stacked to an even height across the entire pallet?
- Properly wrapped or protected?
- Clearly labeled “Fragile” if applicable?
- Clearly labeled “Do Not Stack” if applicable?
Lesson #4: Documentation Matters Too
If damage or loss does occur, you’ll definitely want a paper trail to make the claims process go as smoothly as possible.
Keeping all your documents in order can ensure that your relationship with your carrier remains amicable and that you receive the most accurate payout you can.
Here are some documents you’ll want to make sure to fill out in full and keep on file:
- Commercial invoices
- Verification of the product’s value
- Bill of lading (BOL)
- Proof of delivery (POD)
- Packing lists
With all of these handy in the event of a claim, you can avoid a nasty you-said-they-said dispute.
Lesson #5: Know Your Carrier’s Liability Structure
Different LTL carriers handle claims in different ways.
It’s important to know exactly what your carrier’s policy is in the event of lost or damaged freight to know how much you can expect to recoup.
There are two main liability structures you’re likely to encounter among LTL carriers.
The 2 Liability Structures of LTL Shipping
1. A flat rate.
These LTL carriers will pay out the same dollar amount per pound for lost or damaged freight regardless of what its contents are.
2. A graded scale.
LTL carriers who go this route will pay out at different rates depending on your freight’s class. More fragile freight of a higher class is typically more valuable, and these carriers will pay out at a higher dollar-per-pound rate for it.
In any case, expect your carrier to have a maximum liability it is willing to pay out.
If you’re worried that this maximum isn’t sufficient for your freight, you can request what’s called “gap insurance,” an additional policy that covers the difference between the carrier’s maximum liability and your product’s full value.
The list of carriers who can meet your needs might be limited if you require gap insurance (this depends on the carrier to retain a high enough level of liability insurance), so be sure to make this need known clearly when reviewing potential carriers’ liability policies.
Lesson #6: Note Damages Immediately
So your consignee receives your shipment and notices visible damage to one or more pallets: Edges are crushes, some boxes have been punctured or whatever else.
What happens next?
Your first step is the most important: When you spot damaged freight upon delivery, inform the driver immediately and clearly notate the damages on the proof of delivery.
Failing to report damage immediately is the #1 reason claims are denied.
Your consignee should mark on the delivery receipt that there is visible damage and alert the driver of this fact verbally.
If you’re working with a carrier directly, this will get reported back to the carrier. If you’ve gone through a third-party logistics company (3PL), it will get back to them instead.
The best way to ensure a successful claim?
Inform the driver immediately and clearly notate the damages on the proof of delivery.
I Reported Damages — What Now?
At this point, you have two options:
- If the driver acknowledges the damage, your consignee can refuse to accept the affected pallets and send them back to the point of shipping.
- You can accept the pallets, unpack, them and assess the actual damage to your freight, and file a claim for that value.
What If I Discovered Damage After I Signed the POD?
If damage is concealed — that is, if it’s not discovered until after the POD has been signed as clear and the packaging opened — you can still file a claim.
But it is absolutely imperative that you do so quickly and allow the carrier to inspect the product before any further handling or movement occurs.
It may seem like whatever follows this point is likely to be a contentious process, but there’s good news: the law is on the side of amicable resolution.
Lesson #7: There’s a Federally Mandated Structure for Processing Freight Claims
All LTL freight claims are subject to the guidelines established in the Carmack Amendment to the Interstate Commerce Act.
This amendment lays out who is liable for damages and losses that occur during shipping, the timeline for filing a claim and recovering damages, and the role of freight forwarders in the claims process.
Carmack Amendment: Key Points
- Liability lies with the carrier who delivers damaged freight to the receiver.
- Though carriers can be held liable for the full replacement value of goods, if there is an underlying agreement between the shipper and carrier limiting the value the carrier is liable for, that agreement takes precedence.
- If an LTL carrier outsources the portion of the shipment in which the damage occurred to another carrier, they are permitted to recover the damages they pay out to the shipper from that carrier.
- Carriers hold liability even if they fail to issue a bill of lading or delivery receipt.
- Shippers may bring civil action (a lawsuit) against a carrier responsible for a loss if damages are not paid out appropriately.
- Shippers have a legal right of up to nine months to file a claim, and up to two years to bring civil action.
When your freight claim is accepted — and most claims that follow the proper procedures are — the amount you’ll be able to recover in damages depends on your carrier’s policies and your relationship with them.
Lesson #8: 3PLs Can Help You Handle LTL Freight Claims
Freight claims can be a challenge for even experienced LTL shippers. Working with someone who has been there before can help streamline the process in some major ways.
When you work with a 3PL to ship your LTL freight, you can benefit from their experience, their assets and their connections to make filing a claim as painless as possible
3PLs Can Coach You Through the Process
If you’re new to the process, your representative at a 3PL can help you understand your rights and responsibilities, how liability is assigned, what steps to expect, how to give your claim a strong chance of being accepted, and how to minimize damaged freight in the future.
A 3PL May Pay You Out Themselves
To speed up the process and ensure you’re satisfied with its resolution as a valued shipper, your 3PL can pay you out for your claim before it is fully settled with the carrier.
3PLs Can Mediate Claims With Carriers
Sometimes who you know matters more than what you know. Because they bring in so much business, 3PLs tend to have executive-level contacts at the carriers they work with who are willing to help disputes reach amicable solutions to keep their relationships strong.
See How One LTL Shipper Leans on Coyote to Get Through Any Shipping Challenge
“The support we receive from our Coyote account managers means we get quick and complete resolutions to any issue that may arise.”
- Brad Youst, CEO and Founder, Bootstrap Farmer
When Bootstrap Farmer’s business blossomed during the COVID-19 pandemic, so too did opportunities for incidents among their exploding number of LTL shipments.
Find out how Coyote has helped them get their greenhouse and gardening supplies into their customers’ hands intact and ready to grow.