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Damaged Goods: How to File for Damages from a Move – and Win

When relocating, it's up to you to make sure you get there in one piece -- it's the movers' job to make sure that all of your belongings arrives the same way.  But what if your sofa arrives in two pieces? And no, it wasn't the sectional couch! It's time to file a claim…

There are three main parts of the process:

* On moving day, the movers will prepare an itemized inventory with the quantity and condition of your goods. It is important that you are in complete agreement with this inventory so that if you do need to file a claim, you will have the documentation needed to prove whether damages were pre-existing or incurred during transit.

* Upon delivery, if you find that you have missing or damaged items when your stuff arrives, note it on the moving paperwork, either the inventory or the Bill of Lading (which is like your receipt -- you get it when movers take possession of your stuff, and sign it again to indicate you received your stuff). Not noting the damage on this paperwork doesn't damage your ability to make a claim, but it makes the claim stronger.

* Follow through with your claim with the moving company. Here's how to do that:

1. Call the agent that handled your move to request their particular paperwork for filing a claim. Don't count on the movers to do it; you need to deal with the moving company itself. 

Relocation.com's Charlie Morris, an expert with 30 years of experience as a certified moving consultant, advises: "Never rely on the driver or crew to report your claim. Although the driver might say he will report any issues with the full intention of doing so, distractions can come up over the course of a busy day and it might slip his mind." It will be your responsibility to follow through. "Contact the company yourself and let them know if you have a claim," says Morris.

2. Save damaged goods so they're available for an inspection. "You MUST keep damaged items," says Morris. "Do not dispose of them and do not repair until the moving company has sent out an inspector."

If you have crushed boxes, broken glass or other items that may be hazardous to family members, separate those items to a safe area in your new home. In some instances, you can take pictures of the damage and then discard the items.

However, before you discard any damaged items, you should first confirm the claims process with your moving company to make sure you are still covered if you discard them.  "Get anything of that nature in writing so that you have proof," says Morris.

Should the loss or damage of goods hinder living in the new residence -- such as if beds are broken, essential appliances will not work, or anything else that would make everyday-life difficult -- your mover can sometimes expedite replacement of the items while waiting for the written claim form.

Morris also advises, "At the time of delivery, if you notice damaged or crushed cartons, it's important to make note of this then.  Especially if you packed the boxes yourself, this will be the only time you can still show that the movers are liable for damages, not you."

3. Do it fast. After you have listed any lost or damaged items on your claim form, the form needs to be returned to the mover as soon as possible. With most companies, you have nine months from the date of the delivery of your goods to file your claim, but the sooner you do it, the better.  In this way, it's more likely that the people responsible for the damages can be held liable and your claim can be satisfied quickly.

How the Claims Process Works:

After you have submitted your claim, a claims adjuster will be assigned. Your moving company might have their own claims department or they might contract out to a claims specialist.  Either way, your claims adjuster will be the one to arrange for a local third-party repair company to come out to your home to inspect damaged items and estimate the cost of repairs if possible, or the costs for replacement. 

"Generally, you can expect a response within a week or less from the time you submit your claim, at least confirming receipt of your claim. The faster that the company deals with the claim, the better it usually is for both the customer and the company," says Morris.

Have clear communication with your adjuster as to how you will be satisfied with the way your claim is settled. For example, if you do not feel an item can be repaired, make sure the adjuster is aware that you would rather have it replaced. If the adjuster is unsure if repairs are possible for a particular item, they will generally report to the moving company that they suggest replacement rather than repair, as this is likely the more practical option to satisfy your claim.

Some things to keep in mind:

1. Be nice. As a general rule, says Morris, "You get a lot farther with sugar than with, well… other things."  He advised that if you are working with a moving company in getting a claim settlement, "always maintain a dignity in your conversations with the moving company. Overall, things tend to get resolved faster and more easily if you're pleasant to work with."

2. Know the rules. Finally, bear in mind that your shipment might not be insured at full-replacement value.  Morris advises, "Your goods will most likely be covered by the company's valuation, which is not insurance, but a limit of liability.  Your goods are covered only to a set amount."  This valuation coverage (or limit of liability) should be outlined in your contract with the moving company. (Read this article for more information on insuring your goods during the move.)

3. Be sure you're satisfied. When settling your claim, the moving company may decide to pay a cash settlement to you for the value you have listed on your claim form. Generally this is because of the challenge or impracticality of getting a replacement item to you. Make sure that you are satisfied with the settlement before cashing any check because when a check is issued to you for your claim, it will usually read "full and final settlement" of your claim. If you are dissatisfied with the amount, continue to negotiate an acceptable settlement.

Damages and loss can happen during a move, but any good moving company wants to ensure that you are satisfied with their service, which includes how they follow up on claims issues. Even if a thing or two doesn't make it through the move in one piece, your sanity can still stay intact.

Your Next Move:

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In the Press

A Moving Company's Moving Story
June, 2012

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