Maritime Cargo Laws

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American maritime cargo laws are mainly governed by the Carriage of Goods by Sea Act (COGSA), which is essentially the United States’ version of maritime rules arising out of the Hague Convention.  COGSA covers all claims for damage to cargo shipped in international commerce. 

Cargo Loss and Damage Liability

As a general rule, a shipowner is liable for cargo from the point of loading the cargo until the point of unloading the cargo.  There are, however, several exceptions to a shipowner’s liability for cargo that it is loading, carrying, and/or unloading.  For instance, a shipowner may not be liable for damages to cargo that occurred due to an act of God, or due to errors in navigation.  Additionally, a shipowner may limit his or her liability to $500 per package, unless the package is specifically labeled with the value of its contents on its container.  Finally, the statute of limitations, or the time period during which a claimant can file a cargo claim against a shipowner, is one year from the date that the damage occurred to the cargo. 

Litigating Cargo Claims

As a result of the limited liability of shipowners for most cargo, as well as the short period of time during which a claim can be filed, there continues to be extensive litigation in the United States regarding cargo claims.  If you believe that you may have a cargo claim against a shipowner, you should immediately contact an experienced maritime lawyer for assistance with your claim.  A maritime lawyer can help you determine whether you have met the legal requirements for maintaining a successful claim against a shipowner for lost or damaged cargo.

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