Q: We are a produce receiver on the West Coast and are reviewing our practices for receiving trouble loads. Can we pursue a carrier claim after receiving fresh produce without a USDA inspection certificate? We’re trying to be thorough, but at the same time we’re trying to avoid adding unnecessary steps to our operations. If we can streamline our process by taking several photographs we would like to do so.
A: When receiving a distressed load of fresh produce, a government inspection certificate quantifying the extent of damage to the product is often needed to support financial damages allegedly resulting from the carrier’s breach.
A government inspection certificate may also be needed to help establish a breach of the contract of carriage. For example, an inspection certificate may report that the top layers of the rear pallets were affected by freezing that appears to have “occurred after packing and in present location” (i.e., in the trailer).
There are some types of claims, however, such as those for missing product and late arrival (where damages may be based solely on market decline) that may be fully supported without the time and expense of calling for a government inspection. But for most other types of claims (including claims for shifting in transit), a government inspection is a key piece of evidence.
Even if temperature records can be used to show a carrier failed to properly maintain transit temperatures, without a government inspection certificate quantifying the condition of the product upon arrival, proving damages may become an obstacle to resolving the claim.
It is important to note that pictures do not usually quantify the extent of damage to produce. A third-party (usually government) inspection certificate should always accompany any pictures that will be provided as evidence of the quality or condition of produce. While pictures can be helpful when attempting to informally resolve a trouble load, they should not be used as a substitute for a government inspection certificate.