June 7, 2013 4th Circuit published opinion

ABB, Inc. v CSX Transportation, Inc.

ABB contracted with CSX to transport a large electric transformer. ABB wrote out the bill of landing which was silent on any liability limits on the shipment. CSX’s then applicable rate list had a $25,000.00 liability limit. The transformer was damaged in transit and ABB sued CSX for damages. CSX moved for summary judgment on the labiality limit issue which the district court granted. The panel, with one judge concurring in part and dissenting in part, vacated the judgment and remanded. The majority held that CSX was statutorily liable for full damages under 49 USC 11706 unless the parties had a written agreement to limit liability. Thus, because the bill of landing was silent as to limitations on liability, did not reference the price list or otherwise demonstrate that ABB agreed to a liability limit, the district court erred in granting CSX a limit through summary judgment. The majority acknowledged that ABB caused some of the difficulties here through failure to update their forms, but, further noted CSX bore the responsibility to seek a written limitation agreement or face liability for eth full amount of damages. One judge concurred in the statement of facts and law of the majority, but dissented as to the vacation of the judgment. He argued that ABB certified in its bill of landing that it was familiar with CSX “tariff”, that a “tariff” in this context is a price list, that ABB, at most, made a unilateral mistake and under Missouri law could not rely on parole evidence to escape the binding contract it wrote. The dissent also noted that the 11th Circuit reached a different conclusion on similar facts and argued that, consistent with the reasoning those cases, that a shipper who writes its own bill of landing, is aware that it must contact the carrier for a quote for full liability coverage and then does not contact the carrier is stuck with the liability limit it incorporated into its bill. Thus, the dissenting judge would have affirmed the judgment.

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