Freight-forwarder liability at a glance

services_import_SnapseedActually, this is a view from the Ukraine. In modern practice, the organisation of the transport process often necessitates direct international multimodal transportation, in which case the freight forwarder carries out the contract of carriage as a multimodal transport operator, even if it does not directly own any vehicles. However, a trend has arisen in which the functions of the carrier and forwarder are combined. Under this model, traditional carriers diversify their activities by creating a forwarding unit within their companies, or forwarding agents acquire vehicles or create dependent carriers. Furthermore, forwarders often hire subcontractors to undertake the shipment; as a result, cases of loss or shortage of goods and claims against forwarding agents can become quite complicated. 

General provisions

Ukrainian legislation does not provide detailed rules governing freight-forwarding activities. The Law on Freight-Forwarding Activities, the Civil Code and the Economic Code stipulate only the general regulations of freight forwarding.

In accordance with Clause 1 of the Law on Freight Forwarding Activities, the contract of freight forwarding is a contract in which the freight forwarder agrees, at the client’s behest, to perform or arrange for the performance of certain contract work related to the transportation of goods. The forwarding agent is entitled to engage other parties for the execution of certain work under the contract (eg, transportation, storage, loading and unloading).

The law includes only general provisions under which the freight forwarder may be held liable to the customer (unless provided otherwise in the contract) for:

  • the number of packages;
  • the weight of the packages (if the weighing was conducted in the presence of the carrier and confirmed with its signature); and
  • packaging requirements under the related shipping documents (signed by a representative of the carrier).

Issues regarding the forwarder’s liability are also governed by the general provisions of the Civil Code, which provides for liability for breach of obligations under the contract. Thus, Article 623 of the code provides that a debtor in breach of its obligations must compensate the creditor for losses caused.

Where the freight forwarder engages third parties to fulfil its obligations under the contract of freight forwarding, the forwarding agent will be held fully responsible for the actions and omissions of the third parties.

Ukrainian law lacks specific rules that directly limit the freight forwarder’s liability to the client. Detailed rules governing the forwarding agent’s liability to the customer, as well as grounds and limitations of such liability, are fixed by the parties in the contract of freight forwarding.

At the same time, Ukrainian legislation contains general rules that allow for the release of the freight forwarder from liability. In accordance with Clause 614 of the Civil Code, a party that has violated its obligations will be held responsible only if found guilty (intently or negligently), unless otherwise agreed in the contract. Disputes in connection with claims against freight forwarders for loss of cargo in transit are common in Ukraine, so there is ample case law in the area. However, since Ukrainian legislation provides only general provisions on the freight forwarder’s liability, court practice for such disputes is often ambiguous and contradictory. In particular, there have been separate cases with similar circumstances in which the court variously found the freight forwarder both liable and not liable for cargo loss in transit. Continue reading →