Road Freight & Cargo Claims: Legal Keys for Insurers

Trucks and cars moving quickly on a highway through a scenic countryside.

1. Legal Framework

The legal framework for road freight claims encompasses a blend of international conventions, domestic laws, and jurisdictional considerations.

The international transportation of goods by road is primarily regulated by the Convention on the Contract for the International Carriage of Goods by Road (CMR). This convention, adopted by numerous countries, establishes a uniform legal framework, defining the rights and obligations of carriers, senders, and consignees. The CMR covers key aspects such as the carrier’s liability, limitation of liability, and the legal recourse available to parties in case of loss or damage to goods.

While the CMR provides a broad international framework, domestic laws also play a crucial role, especially in cases where the road freight journey occurs entirely within a single country.

Each jurisdiction has specific statutes and regulations that address various facets of road transportation, including carrier obligations, documentation requirements, and liability provisions.

Addressing conflict of laws in road freight claims

In situations involving multiple jurisdictions, conflict of laws principles become relevant. Insurers must assess which jurisdiction’s laws will apply to the claim, especially when there are discrepancies between the applicable domestic laws and the provisions of the CMR. This assessment often involves a detailed analysis of the contractual terms, the nature of the cargo claim, and the specific legal frameworks of the involved countries.

Legal advice: Collaborate with legal experts to fully understand the complexities of international conventions and local laws. These experts can help you ensure that all responsibilities are fulfilled disputes are effectively managed, and that you fully understand the scope of your exposure and obligations.

2. Liability of the Carrier in Road Freight

Carrier liability is a central issue in road freight claims, significantly impacting cargo claims and influencing the potential payout for insurers.

The CMR governs the liability of carriers in international road transport across EU countries and other signatories. Under the CMR, carriers are typically liable for the total or partial loss of goods and any damage incurred during transportation unless they can prove the damage resulted from specific exempt causes or circumstances beyond their control, such as force majeure.

Carriers’ liability is often limited to a specific amount per kilogram of the goods unless the shipper declared a higher value for the cargo and paid an additional fee.

The consignment note is a vital document in the transport contract, serving as evidence in legal disputes and providing detailed information about the goods transported and the conditions of carriage.

Determining liability in these claims can be intricate due to the multiple parties involved, such as drivers, cargo owners, freight forwarders, and carriers. Additionally, the origin of these parties, the location of the incident, and the applicable regulations and laws must be considered. Different jurisdictions may impose other limits based on national and international regulations.

Legal advice: Ensure that a marine surveyor inspects the cargo at both the origin and destination to verify the condition of the goods. This step is crucial for establishing the facts when cargo claims arise.

Additionally, maintain detailed records of all communications with providers, specifying the conditions under which carriers are held responsible for loss, damage, or delay of cargo during transit. These conditions should be documented in the consignment note or the transport contract.

3. The Scope of Coverage

Road freight insurance provides a safety net for various risks associated with the transportation of goods by road.

The scope of coverage can vary widely, from basic protection against common risks to more comprehensive policies that include additional perils. Insurance coverage for road freight often encompasses:

  • Accidental damage: Coverage for damage resulting from accidents during transportation.
  • Theft: protection against the theft of goods while in transit.
  • Natural disasters: Coverage for losses due to events such as floods, storms, and earthquakes.
  • Cargo handling: Insurance for damages that occur during loading and unloading of goods.

While road freight insurance covers many risks, it’s crucial to be aware of policy exclusions that may affect cargo claims. Common exclusions include:

  • Improper packaging: Damages resulting from inadequate packaging or handling by the shipper.
  • Delay: Losses due to delays in delivery unless specifically covered.
  • Inherent vice: Damages caused by the natural properties of the goods, such as spoilage of perishable items.

Legal advice: Insurers should advise clients to thoroughly review their road freight insurance policies to understand the scope of coverage and any exclusions. Keeping meticulous records and documentation will support the claims process and help in substantiating any cargo claims.

4. Road Transportation Claim Process

The process of filing a road transportation claim involves several steps.

  • Notification of claim: The insured party must notify the insurer and the carrier of a claim within the time limits set by the relevant legal framework or the contract of carriage. Timely reporting is essential to avoid complications such as the deterioration of evidence or the loss of relevant details, which can hinder the assessment and validation of claims.
  • Document collection: Proper documentation is vital to support a claim. The necessary documents typically include:
    • CMR note: Details the goods and terms of transport.
    • Bill of lading: B/L evidence of the contract of carriage and receipt of goods.
    • Proof of loss or damage: Photographs, inspection reports, and any other evidence of the condition of goods.
    • Correspondence: Any communication with the carrier regarding the incident.
  • Claim submission: Submit a formal claim to the insurer, including all collected documentation and a detailed description of the incident.
  • Assessment: Insurers need to assess the extent of the loss or damage, often involving surveyors or loss adjusters to provide expert evaluations. Their assessments help determine liability and the amount payable under the policy terms.
  • Settlement. Once the claim is approved, the insurer processes the payment.

Legal advice: Encourage your clients to promptly report any losses or damages and to keep meticulous records. Clear documentation and regular communication are key to navigating the claim process efficiently and achieving favorable outcomes.

5. Subrogation Rights

Once the insurer has compensated the insured for the loss or damage, the insurer obtains the right to subrogation. This means the insurer can pursue recovery from any third party that may be legally liable for the loss.

Subrogation requires thorough investigation and documentation of the loss, as well as timely action to preserve legal rights.

It involves determining the extent to which losses can be mitigated and claims recovered from third parties. Pursuing subrogation may involve legal action against the carrier or other liable parties, requiring insurers to be knowledgeable in relevant legal procedures and jurisdictions.

Legal advice: To maximize recoveries, ensure timely cooperation, maintain detailed records, and negotiate strategically. If necessary, initiate legal proceedings against the responsible party and collaborate with legal professionals to present a robust case.

6. Dispute Resolution

Disputes in road freight claims can arise from various issues such as liability disagreements or compensation amounts. Cargo insurers must be adept at resolving these conflicts through several methods, each suited to different scenarios.

Negotiation and Mediation

Negotiation and mediation are often the first steps in dispute resolution. By engaging in these processes, parties can reach amicable settlements without incurring the high costs and lengthy durations associated with litigation. These methods promote cooperation and can preserve business relationships, making them ideal for resolving many road freight claim disputes.

Arbitration and Litigation

When negotiation and mediation fail, arbitration or litigation becomes necessary. Arbitration offers a more flexible and confidential alternative to court proceedings and is often preferred in international freight contracts. Litigation, involving formal court processes, can be lengthy and expensive. Insurers should understand the legal requirements and be prepared to provide the necessary evidence to support their case.

Jurisdiction and forum selection

Choosing the correct jurisdiction and forum for dispute resolution is critical. The CMR Convention provides specific guidelines, typically directing cases to the courts where the defendant is domiciled, where the goods were taken over, or where they were supposed to be delivered. Insurers need to be aware of these rules to anticipate where litigation may occur and prepare accordingly.

Forum shopping and arbitration

Forum shopping, where parties seek the most favorable jurisdiction for their case, is a common practice. Insurers should recognize its implications and be ready to address it. Incorporating arbitration clauses in contracts can help manage this, as arbitration offers a controlled environment for resolving disputes.

Legal advice: Insurers should encourage clients to include arbitration clauses in their contracts and maintain an understanding of jurisdictional rules. This ensures they are prepared to resolve disputes efficiently, whether through negotiation, mediation, arbitration, or litigation.


These 6 legal keys are essential for insurers handling road freight and cargo claims. Contact us for more expert legal advice tailored to your needs.


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