B-237658, Feb 12, 1990

B-237658: Feb 12, 1990

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DIGEST: A carrier is not responsible for damage to a shipment caused solely by the operation of natural laws. Simply because humidity may have contributed to the carrier's packing material sticking to an item of furniture's finish during the 2-day transit. Where the carrier has not refuted the suggestion in the record that the damage was caused by the poor quality of the packing material and/or labor. Or established that there was anything about the furniture finish that led to the problem. Settlement by our Claims Group which reversed the Army's finding that Aalmode Transportation Corp. was responsible for $120 in damage to an item of furniture in a shipment of household goods that the firm transported. reverse the Claims Group's decision.

B-237658, Feb 12, 1990

DIGEST: A carrier is not responsible for damage to a shipment caused solely by the operation of natural laws, under the exception to a carrier's liability for damage resulting from "the inherent vice or nature" of the item. The exception does not apply, however, simply because humidity may have contributed to the carrier's packing material sticking to an item of furniture's finish during the 2-day transit, where the carrier has not refuted the suggestion in the record that the damage was caused by the poor quality of the packing material and/or labor, or established that there was anything about the furniture finish that led to the problem.

The U.S. Army Claims Service appeals a January 12, 1989, settlement by our Claims Group which reversed the Army's finding that Aalmode Transportation Corp. was responsible for $120 in damage to an item of furniture in a shipment of household goods that the firm transported. reverse the Claims Group's decision.

The Claims Group's decision was based on the finding, as Aalmode had argued, that humidity had caused packing material to stick to the furniture's finish, so that the damage was caused by "the operation of natural laws," not by the carrier. The Claims Group relieved Aalmode of liability on the basis that a carrier is not responsible for damage to a shipment caused solely by the operation of natural laws.

In appealing the Claims Group's decision, the Army cites the well settled proposition that a carrier is presumed liable for damage, without proof of negligence, unless the firm affirmatively shows that one of five exceptions to such liability applies. See Chandler Trailer Convoy, Inc., B-193195, May 7, 1979. The only exception arguably applicable is for damage caused by the "inherent vice or nature of the commodity," which applies where the commodity has existing defects, diseases, decay or something otherwise inherent that will cause it to deteriorate with a lapse of time. Missouri Pacific R.R. v. Elmore & Stahl, 377 U.S. 134 (1964). The record for the Claims Group's decision included the following Army statement:

"Aalmode was paid for packing this shipment. The damage which occurred was not due to any inherent vice of the dresser finish, but was due to the poor quality of the packing material and/or labor that was used on this move. Aalmode picked up the shipment in North Carolina on 24 June 1987, and delivered it two days later on 26 June 1987, to the contiguous state of Virginia. Dressers are moved all over the world through radical changes in temperature and humidity without sustaining damage of this sort. ..."

It is the Army's position that the cited exception to carrier liability therefore should not apply.

We agree with the Army that Aalmode is liable for the damage in issue. The proposition on which our Claims Group relied essentially is an element of the "inherent vice" exception to carrier liability. See Fraser-Smith Co. v. Chicago, Rock Island and Pacific Railroad Co, 435 F.2d 1396, 1398 (8th Cir. 1971). It applies where there is something inherent in an item that leads to damage without any outside influence other than the laws of nature. Id.; Chandler Trailer convoy, Inc., 56 Comp.Gen. 357, 359 (1977). We therefore invoked the exception in Interstate Van Lines, Inc. - Damaged Refrigerator, B-230381, Nov. 22, 1988, to find a carrier not liable for damage to the molding of a freezer that was stored in Florida for several weeks while in transit from Virginia to Florida. The carrier was not responsible for the intense heat generated during the requested summer storage, which clearly caused the damage.

Here, however, we are unable to conclude that the nature of the furniture finish alone was such that it would lead to humidity generated damage to the property over a transit period of 2 days in mid June. Aalmode packed the furniture in issue and, apparently, it was the introduction of the packing material, interacting with the furniture finish and, perhaps, humidity, that led to the damage. Aalmode has not refuted the Army's suggestion that the damage really was caused by poor quality packing material and/or labor, and has not established that there was anything about the furniture finish that led to the problem. In these circumstances, Aalmode has not shown that the operation of natural laws caused the damage so that the "inherent vice" exception to carrier liability applies. see Chandler trailer Convoy, Inc., 56 Comp.Gen., supra.

Our Claims Group's January 12 decision therefore is reversed.