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Carriers: Review shipper contracts carefully

WITH Today's just-in-time requirements prompting tank truck carriers to transport product quickly, contracts with shippers may be agreed to without extensive review, said Bob Franklin, an attorney with the firm of Franklin and Prokopik.

Keeping in mind that accidents and incidents involving carrier personnel may occur on shipper property, carriers should avoid signing broad liability waivers, such as removing a shipper from all responsibility should a carrier's driver be injured at a shipper location.

Franklin admitted that some shippers may try to require carriers to sign waivers in order to obtain the business. In these instances, carrier must learn to negotiate ways to avoid those demands, or be prepared to pay for what may occur if they agree to forego shipper liability.

Carriers may have worked with the same shipper for many years with no conflict, only to find problems when an accident occurs, particularly when the incident results in costly repercussions, he added.

Turning to the subject of new hours-of-service regulations, Franklin said the legal situation is two-fold: the regulations are complicated and law enforcement officials are likely to interpret them in various ways.

“It's hard for carriers to plan when they don't know what they mean,” he added. But he said when the rules are not clear, it's easier to defend cases.

Discussing new security requirements, Franklin said that driver background checks, and various new registration regulations have been used to satisfy politicians' drive to make people feel safe. However, they will be costly to carriers in time and driver retention.

“As hazmat requirements become more onerous, you are going to hear more drivers say, ‘I don't want to do this.’”

Franklin also advised carriers to show restraint in destroying personnel records. Although the law allows the destruction, the action could hurt the company's defense in a lawsuit because of the appearance of trying to hide information.

He also advised employers to be careful with what information is placed in personnel files, particularly post-accident reports.

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