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Hauling Produce

Q: I hauled a load of watermelons to a receiver on the East Coast. My son and my brother, who are both owner-operators, each hauled a load of watermelons to the same receiver. My brother was late and there were problems with his load. My son arrived on time but was held up for two days before he was unloaded. He demanded a $500 layover fee and received it. My load came in without problems.

When my check came for the freight, the receiver deducted the late charges from my brother's load and deducted the $500 he paid my son for the layover fee. The three of us are related but do not work as a company and are not connected in business. Should I be the one to foot the bill?

A:  Each load is a separate contract and should stand alone. In this case, as you point out, you are not related as a company or connected in business in any way. What happened to you is not only unethical, it is illegal. You should not have to pay anything for your son's layover or your brother's late fees. I would get on the phone with a lawyer or a collection agent if I were you.

Q: I hauled a load of produce to a receiver who signed the bills "chill damage." I received a handwritten accounting of sales 90 days after I delivered the product. I also received a bill for $6,000 for the chill damage. There was never any federal inspection taken and I contend that this receiver has proven nothing. Should I pay this claim?  

A: I don't think you should. In signing the bills "chill damage," the receiver took the first step to documenting this claim. But by failing to obtain a federal inspection and by waiting 90 days to contact you, the receiver (in my opinion) makes a very flimsy case. If the only items that were required to document a claim were a note on your bills and a handwritten accounting, bogus claims would be more prevalent than they are now. I would not pay the claim. I am not a lawyer, but I would think that if this receiver were to sue you for the $6,000, they would not have enough proof to show that you caused this damage or that there even was damage.

Q: I hauled a load through a truck broker who said he would pay me in 21 days provided I made good arrival, which I did. Now, 60 days have passed and the broker says he can't pay because he is owed a large amount of money by a receiver and has no cash flow until he is paid. My contract with the broker was not contingent on his other accounts paying him. I hauled the load, did my job, and deserve to be paid. Where do I stand?

A: The broker sounds to me like he is in serious financial trouble. I agree that you deserve to be paid, but if this broker is being truthful, he can't give you what he doesn't have. Get a credit report on the broker and access his current financial situation. If it looks extremely negative, you need to act now. You should call your attorney or the agency you use to collect past dues for you and explore your options. If it looks like a temporary cash flow problem, maybe you could work out a payment plan. If you do this, make sure that you get everything in writing and make sure the broker sticks to the payment schedule.

Q:  I hauled a load of lettuce from California to Ohio and upon arrival, the receiver said the load was frozen and called for an inspection. The inspection indicated that the load was frozen and showed pulp temperatures at 30 degrees. I contend that I maintained proper temperatures and that the load was frozen when it was loaded. What can I do?

A: The more appropriate question may be what could you have done? From what you told me, you did not run with a temperature recorder, which would have helped in your argument. Also, you apparently did not pulp the product at shipping point, since you would have detected freezing if you had. You also signed the bills and drove to Ohio. You really don't have any proof that you didn't freeze this load. Protecting yourself from this kind of situation is not a hard thing to do. Pulp the product at shipping point. Run with a temperature recorder. It's hard enough for produce haulers as it is. Don't shoot yourself in the foot.