Written By: Rory K. McGinty, P.C.
It is worth remembering that most judges rarely deal with the regulations which govern the way a mover transacts business with its moving and storage customers. Like all lawyers, they learned about contracts and torts in law school. As judges, they deal with cases involving such claims on a daily basis. However, most judges will never have heard about federal or state moving regulations until the day you arrive in court. Under most circumstances, you will have a limited opportunity to explain moving regulations to the judge. Because of the press of other cases, the judge will have little if any time to research and learn about moving regulations. Instead, the judge will likely view your case from the more familiar perspective of contracts and torts.
Movers encounter this problem of “perspective” in a number of scenarios, including the following:
“The Moving Company Defrauded Me!
With increasing frequency, consumers are filing lawsuits alleging that the mover defrauded them by quoting one price before the move and charging a higher price on the day of the move. If a claim is made under the state’s Consumer Fraud statute, a successful plaintiff may be entitled to an award of attorney’s fees, in additional to actual and punitive damages. In other words, a $1,000 move may become a $15,000 liability exposure to the mover.
The best way to avoid such claims, and to defend them when they occur, is to carefully document the reason the price on the Bill of Lading was higher than the estimate. If the customer asked the mover do provide one set of services at the time of the estimate but on the day of the move asked the mover to provide additional services, the mover should have the customer sign a statement, prior to commencing the move, that:
(a) he has requested services which were not included in the estimate;
(b) he agrees to the higher amount shown on the Bill of Lading, which includes the additional services;
(c) he acknowledges the original estimate is now void; and
(d) the mover is willing to provide the services included in the original estimate at the quoted price, but that if the customer wants the mover do provide the additional services he will have to pay for them.
Common examples I have encountered are when: (a) the customer said at the time of the estimate he was going to do the packing, but on the day of the move says he wants the mover to do the packing; (b) the customer requests an estimate based on 4 rooms, but on the day of the move asks the mover to move a garage full of his mother’s goods which were not there on the day of the estimate; or (c) the mover gives an estimate based on a move from point A to point B,but on the day of the move the customer asks the mover to drop part of the shipment off at point C. In each instance, the cost of the move will increase, sometimes markedly, due to the additional services requested on move day. If you do not document that the customer changed the scope of requested services and has agreed to pay more than the original estimate, you may face a charge of fraud.