Where goods are damaged whilst being transported by road across international borders the carrier’s liability is generally limited by international convention. The extent of that limitation was the focus of a case concerning the carriage of two classic cars with a combined value of almost £10 million.
The cars were damaged whilst being transported home to the UK from a classic car event on the continent. One of the cars collided with the other because wheel straps had been inadequately secured by the driver of the transport vehicle. Although the damage was relatively slight, the value of the cars was diminished by a seven-figure sum. The owner of the cars launched proceedings against the carrier with a view to recovering that sum, together with repair costs.
For its part, the carrier argued that its liability was limited to about $20,000. It pointed to the limitation on international road transport liabilities enshrined in the Convention on the Contract for the International Carriage of Goods by Road. Commonly known as the CMR Convention, the convention has the force of law in the UK by virtue of the Carriage of Goods by Road Act 1965.
The owner argued that various exceptions to the CMR Convention applied to the case so that there was no limit on the carrier’s liability. He asserted, amongst other things, that the damage to the cars arose from the transport vehicle driver’s wilful misconduct. In failing to adequately secure one of the vehicles, the driver was alleged to have failed to follow specific instructions and to have been recklessly indifferent to the risks involved.
Ruling on the matter, the High Court acknowledged that the driver’s failure could be readily described as negligent, perhaps even grossly negligent. However, there was no reason to think that it was reckless, still less deliberate. Arguments that the carrier misrepresented the extent of its insurance cover, or gave a binding promise that it would reimburse the owner in full for the consequences of the damage, also fell on fallow ground. The Court concluded that the CMR Convention applied to the case and that the carrier’s liability was limited accordingly.