Federal Courts and Motor Carriers
If you are an attorney representing a motor carrier being sued on a loss and damage claim, the conventional wisdom is to get the case in federal court if at all possible. There are several factors in the mix to reach that conclusion. One factor is the perception that your motor carrier client won't get homered in federal court, that federal courts will not favor the local business over your out of state client. One would like to think that the scales of justice would not permit one party to be preferred over another party simply due to local residency, but the real world frequently doesn't work that way.
Another factor is that the federal courts usually have more resources, which translates to having staff to assist a judge with tasks such as research, drafting of opinions, that sort of thing. Contrast that with state courts which are often times strapped for personnel and support systems. Federal judges frequently have the assistance of law clerks and other personnel who can assist in ferreting out legal arguments, and therefore the federal court decisions are often based upon independent analysis. State court judges are often times left to figure things out for themselves, so they have to rely upon lawyers to educate them. And let's face it, sometimes the lawyer gets it wrong, or maybe tells the judge the wrong thing, which results in a bad decision.
Federal courts might also be more inclined to follow federal law, which in the case of transportation law, is usually the law that applies. State court judges, on the other hand, might be more inclined to go with what they know, which is typically state law. They may prefer the familiar over the unfamiliar or unknown. This is not a knock on state court judges. It is simply a reality that state court judges have fewer resources which equates to greater challenges.
There are other factors to consider, but those will not be put into print for a variety of reasons. If you are a motor carrier faced with this type of controversy, you will find out.
All in all, federal courts usually provide a forum set up for a more comprehensive review of the case, with a better chance that the correct call will be made on the various matters that may arise during the course of the proceedings.
As for the law applicable to cargo loss and damage claims, as many or most of my readers know, the Carmack Amendment governs the transportation of property by motor carrier in interstate commerce. There is a low threshhold for Carmack to apply, since the matter only needs to involve more than $10,000 in dispute, which is pretty low, about the same amount as the upper limit of small claims jurisdiction in many states. Otherwise, you need a $75,000 controversy, plus each party must be from different states (generalizing for the moment). So Carmack can be pretty sweet if it applies and if you are a motor carrier on a cargo loss and damage claim, provided it did not involve exempt transportation, which will be discussed in the next blog post.
So keep the cargo rollin', and there is a mishap, find your way to a federal court.
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