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.
Federal law allows a moving company to limit its liability for loss and damage by offering what is known as “released rates.” 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 must:
- Inform the customer of the opportunity to contract with the mover for “full-value” protection, meaning a higher compensation for the replacement of goods lost, damaged, or needing repair;
- Provide the customer with information 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 the released rate 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.
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.
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