Florida (April 10, 2019) – In handling interstate cargo claims, it is likely that you will face claims for thawing damage to frozen food. This is especially true during summer months and in warm-weather states like Florida, as reefer trailer breakdown is more likely to occur under such conditions. 

So, how do you assess whether a frozen food cargo shipment was damaged during transit? 

Key point: To properly analyze the claim, you need to understand what evidence is sufficient to satisfy the shipper’s burden to prove thawing damage prior to delivery. This same evidence will also guide a coverage analysis regarding whether there was direct physical loss under the cargo policy.  

The Issue: In order to recover for damage to cargo under the Carmack Amendment (49 U.S.C. § 14706), a plaintiff must prove: (1) delivery of the goods to the initial carrier in good condition, (2) damage to the goods before delivery to their final destination, and (3) the amount of damages.  See Beta Spawn, Inc. v. FFE Transp. Servs., 250 F.3d 218, 223 (3rd Cir. 2001).  In regard to the second prong – courts have held that whether frozen or chilled food was damaged by thawing during transit is a question of fact.

Several reported cargo cases have involved the thawing or warming of frozen/chilled foods.  In these types of cases, a combination of the following factors have been considered sufficient evidence of damage to the goods: high reefer temperatures, high food/box pulping temperatures, eyewitness testimony of visible defrosting, wet or sweaty boxes, moist/mushy boxes, ice crystals and frost (refreezing) and condensation on packaging. See e.g., J.E. Simplot Co., Inc. v. H & H Transp., Inc., 2007 Dist. LEXIS 5927, *1-3 (D. Idaho 2007); Oscar Mayer Foods Corp. v. Pruitt, 867 F. Supp. 322, 324-327 (D. Md. 1994); National Transp., Inc. v. Inn Foods, Inc., 827 F.2d 351, 351-355 (8th Cir. 1987). Arguably, a combination of these factors would also show actual damage, triggering coverage under the direct physical loss requirement contained in most cargo policies.  

How to Best Handle Frozen Food Cargo Claims:

  1. Investigate the facts.
  2. Obtain reefer trailer readouts from origin to destination.
  3. Obtain any pulping temperatures of the cargo.
  4. Interview all witnesses.
  5. Secure photos of the goods.
  6. Contact a trusted attorney to confirm your position or litigate the dispute.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.