Question: I hauled five loads through a truck broker. One load had a problem and the other four were clean. The broker says that he can’t pay on any load until the details of the claim are worked out. He says this will take about 30 days. What can I do? I need my money.
Answer: I am going to assume that the claim load was a truck problem. If it wasn’t, the broker has no right holding any money. Assuming it was, by law, each load is a separate contract in and of itself. In other words, the broker cannot hold your money on a clean load in lieu of working out a claim. I would be pretty out of touch with reality if I told you this wasn’t a practice that is done every day in the world of produce trucking. I even had one case in which a broker had two brothers and one of their sons each haul a load of cabbage. Two were fine, one was cooked and the bottom line was that no one got paid. Some of the brokers and receivers who hold money in this manner do it because they can. They know the only option you have legally is to sue them for your money. In your case, I would tell the broker that you are going to do exactly that if he doesn’t pay you for the four clean loads and act on your threat if he doesn’t cut a check.
Question: I was on your Red Book web site the other day and noticed you could get online reports. Are these only available to members?
Answer: Credit reports on transportation brokers are available to everyone who needs them via our new web site, www.redbooktrucking.com. Members receive 25 free reports every year and non-members can purchase individual reports or blocks of reports using their credit card. Look-ups and some simple searches are free.
Question: I had a claim on a load of produce. The receiver said that the problem was temperature related and when I delivered, they said there might be a claim. Now, 30 days later, I got a check and accounting of sales stating that due to high temperatures, $514 was lost on this load and they deducted it from my freight. Can they do this?
Answer: I have learned over the years that when someone says, “there might be a claim,” there usually is. I believe that some receivers tell you this to gauge your reaction. If you say, “let me know” and drive away, I guarantee you there are receivers out there who will invent a claim and pass it directly on to you. In your case, one glaring item is the lack of a federal inspection. The first step for filing a claim is to call for an inspection. Since this receiver didn’t do that, the figures they provided you have no meaning. I am not saying that this particular receiver tried to take advantage of you, but they did not meet the requirements for filing and documenting their supposed claim. I see lack of proof to justify a deduction of any kind from the truck.
The broker cannot hold your money on a clean load in lieu of working out a claim.
Question: What should I look for when signing a broker agreement or contract?
Answer: First of all, know how you are getting paid. Is this broker operating on a collect and remit basis (they pay you after they get paid) or are they committing to pay you in a certain number of days? If the agreement doesn’t specify this, ask. Then, look for the obvious. Number of picks, number of drops, sufficient delivery time, etc. On a produce load, you need to make sure that temperature requirements are specified. Do not under any circumstances ever put a produce load on your truck until you know the required transit temperature. You may think you know, but if you’re wrong, you are in big trouble. Also, read any fine print. It wasn’t very long ago we had some scam artists operating out of Vegas who stuck a clause in their contract (in very small print) that they were charging a “finders fee” that would be deducted from your freight. Red Book got calls from truckers who were shocked to have hauled four or five loads for this outfit and received a short check because the finder’s fee had been deducted. In every case, the trucker who was calling had briefly glanced at the contract, did not read the fine print and signed it. Always make sure you thoroughly read a contract or agreement before signing it.
Question: Is Perishable Agricultural Commodities Act (PACA) any closer to covering truck claims/problems than they were in the past?
Answer: They are not. I have made my feelings known for years that PACA should handle trucking complaints like they currently handle complaints from buyers and sellers. Me saying that isn’t enough. No one can wish this to happen. It literally would take an act of Congress to get it done. There are groups within the produce trucking community who have lobbied PACA to handle these disputes, but nothing ever came of it. Serious lobbying must be done and a well thought out plan of action must be designed before trucks could even begin to be considered under PACA. If someone out there wants to tackle that, I offer my help in achieving that goal.