What You Should Know to Sue a Moving Company in Small Claims Court - dummies

What You Should Know to Sue a Moving Company in Small Claims Court

By Judge Philip Straniere

A common small claims dispute involves a plaintiff suing a moving company for damaged furniture or lost property. Moving companies are not regulated by state or local government; they’re regulated by federal government through the Interstate Commerce Commission. This means that local law will not be applied, and that any common law contract or state statutory contract rights will be secondary to those of the Interstate Commerce Commission.

You can still sue in your local court — it’s just that the agreement is subject to the federal rule. After all, you don’t think that a federal judge really wants to deal with your damaged furniture claim, do you?

In order to avoid some of the more common moving-company problems, deal with recognized and established moving companies and not four guys who posted a notice at the supermarket. It will cost you more, but you generally won’t have as many problems getting a claim resolved. A reputable company probably has insurance to cover claims made against it.

How to deal with damages

As with airlines, if you don’t pay for additional insurance coverage, the amount of damages you can recover is limited to the weight of the items. As with lost luggage, if the mover loses an item, the burden of proof of the value of the item is on you. These restrictions on recovery are also referred to as tariffs.

Moving is a pain in the neck, and you may be so eager to get the movers out of your new house and life that you just scribble your signature on the document that says everything was delivered in “good condition” without taking a close look.

Oh, you may have taken a cursory look to make sure that none of the boxes were dented and the furniture still had all its legs, but not much else. It’s not until you unpack grandma’s priceless china that you find that most of it is smashed to smithereens or start looking for box 714 a week later and it’s not between boxes 713 and 715.

Notify the mover as soon as you discover any damage. The issue of whether the items were damaged by the mover then becomes one of credibility at trial. Taking pictures of the furniture before and after the move may be time-consuming but will assist you in proving your claim.

In all likelihood, you probably initialed the invoice waiving the option to purchase insurance, which automatically binds you valuing items based on their weight. Obviously, you shouldn’t do this, especially if you have priceless household goods. Or you should transport those items in your car, if they aren’t too big.

To help make sure that your most precious belongings aren’t damaged or that you can seek compensation if they are:

  • Don’t waive your option to purchase insurance. If you initial the invoice where it binds you to a value tied to the weight of an item, you can lose out if your collection of rare origami animals get flattened.

  • Transport truly priceless and very fragile items in your car, if they fit.

  • If there is an extra charge for special packing and handling, pay it.

The amount the mover will pay by the pound is nowhere near the real value of the item. It’s sort of like getting reimbursed the sale price of store-brand bologna when you bought imported truffles, but at least you get more money for big items, such as couches and beds.

Unfortunately, the couch will probably still cost more than its weight in mover money. For instance, a dining room cabinet weighing 100 pounds may be reimbursed at 60 cents a pound. For 60 bucks you can’t even buy one of those self-assembling cabinets from a Nordic furniture store.

When have you ever weighed your personal property? For that matter, when have you seen a mover produce a scale? If you are planning to bring a lawsuit, you have to prove the weight of the item — the moving company doesn’t have that obligation.

If the item is in pieces, obviously it can be weighed, but if the item is taking a detour across the United States you’ll have to settle for the standard weight of a similar piece of furniture.

It’s a good idea to keep documentation of big furniture purchases for this reason. It can make a world of difference if your dining room set is made of ironwood or balsawood.

How to escape extra charges

Broken goods aren’t the only hassles you can have with a moving company. A more challenging situation arises when you have a contract with the mover, but when they get to your new house, the movers tell you there are extra charges involved and threaten to take one or more equally undesirable actions unless you pay the added charges:

  • They refuse to unload the truck.

  • They say they will take the truck back to the old house and unload.

  • They tell you that they will take your goods to storage and charge you extra moving and storage fees.

This is known as extortion, and you should call the police. Make sure you have a copy of the contract to establish the terms of the agreement. Unfortunately, the police at times will say it is a civil matter and that you need to sue in court to resolve the dispute. This is why you should try to deal with recognized movers who have a long-existing business in your community.