As reported in recent PNG Logistics Blog posts, on July 14, 2016, the National Motor Freight Traffic Association (NMFTA) issued a supplement to the National Motor Freight Classification (NMFC) to become effective on August 13, 2016. The supplement was to publish a revised Uniform Straight Bill of Lading. These recent changes, approved by the NMFTA, provided an advantage to its carrier members while further protecting their interests, as opposed to those of the shipper.

    The Surface Transportation Board on Aug. 12 denied a request by a group representing shippers to suspend proposed changes to the bill of lading that governs motor carriers. The Transportation and Logistics Council, had insisted new language to the BOL would be detrimental to shippers. TLC, along with NASSTRAC, told the board the proposed language would make it harder for shippers to hold motor carriers liable for damage during transport. In addition to the Council’s initial petition, the Council also filed supplemental pleadings on September 12th and October 3rd. NASSTRAC, NITL, TIA, as well as a number of other parties joined in to support the Council’s objections to the bill of lading changes.

    On January 10th the Surface Transportation Board (“STB”) denied the Transportation & Logistics Council’s (“Council” or “T&LC”) Petition for Investigation & Suspension in Docket Number ISM-35008 involving changes to the Uniform Straight Bill of Lading (“UBOL”), the bill of lading terms and conditions, and related rules that were published on July 14, 2016 by the National Motor Freight Traffic Association (“NMFTA”) in the National Motor Freight Classification (“NMFC”) (Supplement 2 to NMF 100-AP, effective August 13, 2016).

    Unfortunately, we are likely to see the changes to the BOL terms and conditions being used to avoid liability for loss or damage claims both in the voluntary settlement of claims and in future litigation before the courts. The FMCSA, has demonstrated for quite some time that it believes that it has no other mandate from Congress than “safety of commercial vehicles”, and has shown virtually no interest in exercising jurisdiction with respect to the administration of the commercial side of the freight industry. This disinterest has manifested itself in a variety of ways, including eliminating the requirement for motor carriers to have cargo liability insurance, etc, placing additional burden on the shipper.

    The STB, which maintains some limited jurisdiction over the commercial side of the motor carrier industry, has similarly avoided actively exercising its jurisdiction in this area, essentially turning a “blind eye” to the industry. The STB’s latest refusal to accept jurisdiction over anything involving the collective actions of motor carriers, like the rules and practices published by an organization such as the NMFTA in the NMFC, further serves to confirm that there is no oversight over the commercial practices existing in the transportation industry.

    Where does this leave us now? Shippers current best options would be to attempt to negotiate a transportation contract with their carriers including provisions that nullify the unreasonable changes to the BOL. Obviously, large shippers will be significantly more successful at negotiating such contractual provisions. In many respects, we have come full circle right back to 1887! We once again have a system where larger carriers and shippers can make deals that smack of discrimination towards small business.

    Time will only tell how these changes will affect shipper/carrier relationships moving forward, and what additional strains it may add to the shipper vs carrier liability question.

    We will keep you posted with any new developments pertaining to this situation and in the meantime if you would like more information please do not hesitate to contact us at or 717-626-1107 x 3 .

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