Delivery of Damaged Goods: Who’s at Fault?

Article provided by Lloyd Wells, a freelance writer and marketing consultant – working with International parcel broker Rand Logistics on this post.

Here’s the story of an eBay seller who sold a slab of granite to a customer and used a courier company to have it delivered. When you’ve read this sorry tale, ask yourself this question: Who is liable – the seller or the courier?

I sold a granite slab on eBay and sent it my customer on a pallet packed with cardboard, bubble wrap and a wrapping of cling film for extra protection. Pallet delivery seemed the best way to avoid damage, but when the item was delivered it was in two pieces. The customer couldn’t be there for the delivery so he’d asked his sister to sign for it. She signed and the courier went on his merry way. Only later, when she unwrapped the parcel, did she discover it was damaged. 

The courier company told me that signing for the parcel, by default, meant that the goods had been received in good condition and therefore they weren’t responsible. And that’s what it says in the courier company’s Terms and Conditions. Aaargh! 

My problem was further compounded by the fact that in terms of customer rights, as the seller, it’s my responsibility to ensure that items are delivered in good condition. If not, the customer is entitled to a refund or to have the goods replaced. Ouch! 

So, who do you think is in the wrong?

Unfortunately, unless the eBay seller can provide sufficient proof that the courier company was negligent and caused the damage, he has to accept liability. It is the suppliers’ obligation to ensure that goods are well protected while they are in transit to their customer. The supplier must also make sure the delivery company, or courier, is aware that the goods are fragile, or if they are to be kept or transported in a particular way. If they do not specify this, then they will be liable for any damage that occurs in transit.

Suppliers try to get around accepting liability by saying that the goods were signed for. But a delivery note, as the name suggests, only indicates that the goods were delivered and not that they had been received by the customer in good order. If there’s a problem with, or damage to, the goods, a customer may still reject them, even if they haven’t previously had a chance to examine them themselves.

Some courier companies ask customers to inspect the goods while the driver is still there and ask them to sign a form stating that they’ve received everything in good order. But the law states that customers receiving items are entitled to have ‘reasonable’ opportunity to examine the goods, so it could be argued that the ‘there and then’ policy is not ‘reasonable’ and therefore customers could choose not to sign the form.

It should be pointed out that if a customer has the opportunity to examine goods while they are still in the shop, and they spot something wrong when the item is delivered that they should have noticed when they first examined it, they will not necessarily be able to reject it. Although in reality, most stores will be quite happy if a customer simply wants to exchange the item for another.

Here is one example of the typical wording of a courier company’s exclusions of liability relating to damage in delivery:

  1. We will not be liable for any loss, damage, mis-delivery, non-delivery or delayed delivery of any consignment which occurs as a direct or indirect result of:
    • anything you or your employees or agents do or omit to do or any misstatement or misrepresentation you, your employees or agents make;
    • any inherent liability to wastage, latent or inherent defect, vice or natural deterioration or electrical derangement of the Consignment;
    • the consignment being insufficiently or improperly packaged;
    • the consignment being incorrectly or insufficiently addressed (including the correct postal code) or labelled
  1. Please be aware that you should sign for goods as ‘damaged’ if this is the case (and if you are not the recipient of the goods, you should ask the recipient to do the same). If goods are signed for as being in good condition, it will be difficult for you to show that the goods were damaged in transit. If you are unable to check when the driver is there, please arrange for the goods to be signed for as ‘unchecked’.

If it can be proved that an item was damaged by the courier company then a claim can be submitted. If it’s shown that the damaged occurred whilst in transit, the courier company will, at their discretion, pay for the damage to be repaired, or pay for a replacement.

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