Reasonable Dispatch Service -- A Mover's Obligation to Deliver

Reasonable Dispatch Service -- A Mover's Obligation to Deliver

When a homeowner or a tenant enters into a contract with a mover to transport furniture and furnishings out of state, those federal laws and the regulations adopted by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) come into play. The FMCSA requires a mover to transport a shipment with "reasonable dispatch."

" Reasonable Dispatch" Defined

Typically a customer and a mover agree to a set of dates during which the mover will pick up and deliver a shipment. The customer determines the period during which the shipment should be picked up and delivered, and the mover determines whether he or she can accommodate that request. When the parties have agreed upon the time period and the mover complies with that agreement in a timely manner, the mover has provided "reasonable dispatch" service.

Inability to Comply

Generally, the mover is required to pick up or deliver a shipment on the dates that are listed on a bill of lading, which is the mover's receipt for the shipment and the contract for transportation. When situations arise that cause a mover to delay the pick up or the delivery of a shipment, the mover has an obligation to promptly notify the customer of the delay as soon as it becomes apparent and to indicate dates during which the mover can pick up or deliver the shipment.

Noncompliance

A mover does not have to comply with the reasonable dispatch requirement if he or she has guaranteed the delivery of a shipment on a certain date. However, if delivery has not been guaranteed, and the mover fails to pick up or deliver a shipment within the agreed-upon time period, or if the mover refuses to deliver the shipment after the customer offers to pay the actual amount of a binding estimate or 110 percent of a non-binding estimate, the mover has not complied with the requirement of "reasonable dispatch."

Customer Changes and Storage Charges

If a customer changes the agreed-upon dates, the mover may agree to the changes if they do not conflict with other contracts, but he or she has no obligation to do so. The mover may place the shipment in storage at the customer's expense if the customer is unwilling or unable to accept delivery on the date agreed to in the bill of lading.

Damage and Delay Claims

An agreed change in the pick up or delivery times does not relieve a mover from liability for damages that are caused to the shipment during transport. Additionally, if the customer suffers delay or inconvenience damages, the mover may be liable. Such damages include expenses or costs that would not have otherwise been incurred but for the delay.

Force Majeure Defense

If a mover does not comply with the "reasonable dispatch" requirement, the only defense available to the mover is force majeure. Force majeure is a legal term of art that means that the cause of noncompliance was a force that was outside the control of the mover. In other words, a flood that closed a road, a tornado, a snowstorm, or other similar, serious weather conditions would be outside the control of the mover. Those extreme weather conditions could form the basis of a force majeure defense that would relieve the mover of liability for noncompliance with the "reasonable dispatch" requirement.