If your great-grandmother’s Italian chinoiserie mirror ships cross-country and you unfurl the layers of packaging only to find the glass irremediably shattered, who is at fault, and where can you turn? The first step is to file a claim with the postal or courier service used for shipping. Any reputable shipping company’s website will have claim instructions readily available: USPS, UPS, FedEx, DHL, SEUR, to name a few.


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As the e-commerce revolution soars, growth in the parcel shipping market must keep pace with the demand. Consumer shopping habits, whether for the holiday blitz or everyday necessities, stipulate delivery services to drop packages on doorsteps nation-wide, 24/7. Amazon delivers an average of 608 million packages yearly! According to CNBC, Amazon's holiday metrics surpass all competitors. Online shopping sites afford advantageous deals with free and, or, same-day shipping. According to a Walker Sands retail report, 79 percent of U.S. consumers say free shipping makes them more likely to shop online. Fifty-four percent of U.S. consumers under age 25 say same-day shipping is their number-one purchase driver.

Damage to packages is increasingly likely as online shopping increases, retailers continue to promote rapid shipping, and delivery vehicles flood the roads. Online videos show delivery drivers recklessly delivering items and according to the latest reports, truck accidents have shown a steady increase over recent years. 

Parcel shipping in a more “traditional” sense, such as moving, mailing possessions, or gifting, to name a few reasons to pack and ship, is still a thriving component of the overall shipping landscape. Alas, with the sky-high volume of packages in transit, a certain percentage of them will arrive damaged.

In the unfortunate instance you are the recipient of a sordid mess of a package from a retailer, make your damage claims directly to the company you purchased from. Retailers contract with and are responsible for liaising with their couriers. For example, Amazon’s website states:

If your item is damaged or defective, you can return your product through our Online Return Center during the return period (most items can be returned within 30 days of receipt of shipment).

The Checklist: Protect Your Delivered Items

To allay potential “traditional” shipping issues, start with a proactive approach to a worst-case scenario. In other words, prepare by protecting your valuables.

Insure Your Package

If you intend to file a claim in the case of damages, you will need this. Should you get shipping insurance? Consider that if the cost of insurance on your item is less than what you would spend to replace it, getting insurance mitigates the risk!

Packing the Goods

Refresh your shipping know-how with professional advice.

Documentation

Photograph your contents and your packing before you ship. If, and when, damage(s) occur to your items while in transit, document them on the receiving end. This is necessary evidence to submit with a potential claim.

Time Is of the Essence

Depending on where you file your damage claim, there are disparate windows of time for taking action. Look them up and adhere to them.

Contracts

It behooves you to read the fine print on your shipping contract. Most likely, you will come across verbiage wherein the shipper waives any claim of liability for damages done to shipping contents beyond a shipping refund, barring the customer has purchased insurance. Normally, the insurance contract limits compensation to “fair market value,” which can differ from “replacement value.”

Signature Upon Delivery

When shipping, make sure to require a signature upon delivery. This activates a layer of protection for you. If the package shows noticeable signs of damage, the recipient can simply refuse to sign for it.

Small Claims Court: What You Need to know

Should you hire a lawyer and take your case to small claims court? “A reputable carrier will want a valid claim resolved without going to small claims court,” says Alyce Halchak with Gibbons Law in Newark, New Jersey. However, if you do find yourself embroiled in a fight and cannot negotiate a settlement, you may see no other solution. Consulting an attorney can be helpful, as they “know what judges find compelling and can help ... focus your case in an effective way,” according to Kimberly Hanlon at Lucēre Legal in Minneapolis.

Feeling uncomfortable taking on a large corporation? Rest assured it has been done before. One recent example is a “few people” who took Equifax to small claims court for its data breach – and won their case.

Check your state’s rules on small-claims court, as they vary. Local state government websites and county clerks are great starting points. In some states, you are required to have an attorney present. In others, you must represent yourself. Maximum dollar amounts you can sue for also vary but are generally between $5,000 and $10,000. Small claims court is meant to be less inexpensive, more expedient, and altogether “simpler” than higher courts. It is important to note that the winning party in a small claims case cannot collect attorney's fees from the losing party. Hiring an attorney, therefore, makes you responsible for paying your attorney out-of-pocket. With this in mind, weigh the pros and cons of pursuing a small-claims case.

May all of your packages arrive with no wear and tear. If the unavoidable becomes your reality, take prompt action by filing a claim, and proceed with patience and persistence.