Is It Possible to Break the Liability Limit of the CMR Convention?: A Case Study

A Truck Driving on a Highway at Dusk

Case Overview

Incident: In a road transport operation between Italy and Spain, a truck and its cargo vanished.

Parties involved:

  • Shipment Owner: Contracted through a Polish freight forwarder.
  • Polish Freight Forwarder: Subcontracted a Czech carrier.
  • Czech Carrier: Actual transporter of the goods.
  • Client: Spanish cargo insurance company, subrogating to exercise the rights of claim against potentially responsible parties.

Challenges Faced

1. Valuation and Compensation

The loss of goods valued at approximately 94,000 EUR was substantial, especially for small or medium-sized transport companies.

The CMR Convention’s compensation limit resulted in a payout of approximately 70,000 EUR, which was deemed insufficient for the high-value goods lost.

2. Involvement of interrelated companies from different countries

The involvement of multiple companies from different countries introduces significant legal complexity. Each company operates under its jurisdiction, which may have varying interpretations and implementations of the CMR Convention, particularly regarding liability and compensation claims.

Effective communication and coordination between these entities are crucial but often problematic due to language barriers, differing business practices, and legal expectations.

3. Difficulty contacting the actual carrier 

It was impossible to contact the actual carrier. Transportation services were contracted via an internet-based cargo exchange platform, complicating the identification and accountability of the responsible parties.

4. The freight forwarder did not appear on the transport document, so involvement (and responsibility) as a contractual carrier was doubtful.

The freight forwarder did not appear on the transport document, making their involvement and responsibility as a contractual carrier doubtful. Proper identification of all parties involved and assessment of their contractual responsibilities are essential in claims management.

The omission of the freight forwarder on the transport document raises questions about their liability and involvement as a contractual carrier.

Key Legal Question

Is it possible to break the liability limit set by the CMR Convention in this case?


1. Applicability of the CMR Convention

The CMR Convention applies to any contract for the carriage of goods by road in vehicles for reward when the place of taking over of the goods and the place designated for delivery are situated in two different countries, at least one of which is a contracting party to the Convention. Since Italy, Spain, Poland, and the Czech Republic are all contracting parties, the CMR Convention governs this case.

Under the CMR Convention, the carrier’s liability is typically limited to 8.33 SDR per kilogram of the gross weight of the lost or damaged goods.

2. Subrogation rights of the insurance company

The Spanish cargo insurance company, having compensated the shipment owner for the loss, steps into the shoes of the shipment owner through subrogation.

This allowed the insurance company to exercise the rights and claims that the shipment owner could have against the responsible parties.

3. Breaking the Liability Limit

To break the liability limit under the CMR, one must prove either:

a) Wilful Misconduct: Per Article 29 of the CMR, if the loss or damage is caused by the carrier’s wilful misconduct or default considered as equivalent to wilful misconduct under the law of the court or tribunal seised of the case, the carrier cannot invoke the liability limits set by the Convention.

b) Gross Negligence: Some jurisdictions interpret gross negligence as equivalent to wilful misconduct, allowing the liability limit to be broken if gross negligence can be established.


Marlin Blue successfully negotiated with insurers in Poland and the Czech Republic, breaking the CMR liability limit by proving fraud by the subcontractor. The insurance company claimed compensation beyond the standard liability limit, recovering the full value of the lost cargo.

The absence of the carrier delayed investigations, claim assessments, and settlements. This absence supported arguments for gross negligence or willful misconduct, potentially allowing for the carrier’s liability limit to be broken under the CMR Convention.

If the carrier could not be located, the freight forwarder had to assume responsibility due to their role in managing and overseeing the transportation chain. The freight forwarder has the responsibility to diligently select and supervise the carriers and subcontractors. The freight forwarder failed to provide documentary evidence demonstrating the chain of events and the carrier’s responsibility, leading to them assuming liability for the loss.

The investigation revealed that the carrier deliberately abandoned the cargo, colluded in theft, or committed fraud. There was a blatant disregard for standard procedures, such as leaving the truck unattended in a high-risk area without security measures. It was demonstrated that the carrier’s failure was a direct cause of the incident, so the freight forwarder had to compensate for the losses incurred due to the theft. The case study highlighted that if the truck and cargo were stolen and it could be proven that the theft was facilitated by gross negligence or willful misconduct of the carrier or subcontractors, the freight forwarder must bear the losses.

To determine liability, it was crucial to establish the chain of responsibility and review all contracts and transport documents. The case study highlighted that if the truck and cargo were stolen and it could be proven that the theft was facilitated by gross negligence or willful misconduct of the carrier or subcontractors, the freight forwarder must bear the losses.

Reflections on Breaking the CMR Liability Limit

While it is possible to break the liability limit in litigation, achieving this through amicable negotiation is more challenging. It requires honesty, a well-thought-out strategy, and strong negotiation skills. An amicable deal is always better than uncertain litigation, especially when you can break a liability limitation with it.

In the context of litigation, jurisdictional strategies become crucial. Leveraging the legal frameworks of the involved jurisdictions can help identify the most favorable forum for pursuing the claim. Different countries may have varying thresholds for what constitutes gross negligence or willful misconduct, and a strategic approach can significantly enhance the chances of breaking the liability limit.


This case underscores the importance of an effective claim management team and strategic negotiation in complex transport scenarios.

The necessity of having clear, detailed contracts and maintaining accurate records of all communications and agreements is essential for establishing the chain of responsibility and the level of care exercised by the carrier, which is crucial for breaking the CMR liability limit.

The issue of phantom carriers adds another layer of complexity, making it challenging to identify the actual responsible party. Clear contracts and meticulous record-keeping are necessary to combat the problems posed by fraudulent entities masquerading as legitimate carriers.

By addressing these challenges with a comprehensive legal strategy, it is possible to navigate the complexities of the CMR Convention and seek appropriate compensation beyond the typical liability limits.

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