Getting a Recovery for Damage to Your Personal Property when in Transit; the Case of the Spotted Mirror


When movers deliver your valuable property make sure that you have purchased insurance.  

This lesson was repeated in “the Case of the Spotted Mirror.”

Bill, a successful lawyer from Wilmington, Delaware, purchased a $5,000 antique mirror from our client, The Antique Gallery in New York City.  The Gallery’s usual procedure is to have the customer arrange and pay for delivery from The Gallery.  This was a very large and heavy mirror, and Bill hired a mover from Wilmington to deliver it to his home.  

In Bill’s own words, the mirror arrived “safe and sound.”  However, it did not fit-in with his living room decor, therefore, he wanted to return it and get a refund.  The Gallery agreed to accept the return.  Bill arranged for the same mover to return the mirror to The Gallery.

When Bill’s the movers delivered the mirror to The Gallery the store owners noticed that there was a large stain or spotting on the surface of the mirror.  This was noted on the mover’s receipt.  The Gallery attempt to remove the spots with cleaners and solvents, but the stains remained.  A glazier was consulted, and she had no answer.  The mirror was irreparably damaged and could not be sold in its present condition.

Bill insisted that the mirror left his hands in the same condition that it left the store.  He demanded a full refund and claimed that the store had the risk of  loss.  The Gallery maintained that Bill had the risk of loss because he failed to return the mirror in the same condition.   

Bill told The Gallery to get the money from the moving company because the it was “insured.”   The mirror was “insured” by the movers, however, the movers had a standard limitation of liability clause.   The face of the contract said that unless the customer purchased additional insurance, the moving company’s liability would be limited to $0.90 a pound.  In other words, the mover would pay only $90 on this 100 pound mirror.

Bill still persisted that he was entitled to a full refund, and he filed a Small Claims complaint.  Upon a hearing by an arbitrator, Bill’s case was dismissed.  In essence the arbitrator ruled that Bill bought the mirror and bore the risk of loss. 

The following lessons were learned from this case:

  1. When moving your own property, make sure that the property is insured.  Discuss this with the mover, shipper, or courier service.  Federal law allows movers to have the limitation of liability such as the one in Bill’s case.  In my own experience, movers have been very open about the limitation of liability provision, and an honest mover will encourage you to buy your own insurance on either your homeowners or business policy.   This will be discussed below.  Typically, shipments with either UPS or Federal Express have a limitation of liability of $100 unless the customer requests insurance and places a value on the shipment.  This $100 limitation is stated on the shipping label.
  2. Do not assume that the mover’s certificate of insurance will cover your antique desk.  In order to gain entry to first class apartment houses and commerical buildings, movers must provide a certificate of insurance.  Typically, this certificate will show $1,000,000 or more in coverage.  However, this does not cover you for damage to your property in the move.  The mover’s $1,000,000 in coverage would protect the building if the mover caused property damage, such as knocking a piece of furniture against a sprinkler pipe and causing a flood.  Again, you are bound to the mover’s limitation of liability.
  3. Purchase your own insurance.  The safest route is to make sure that your own insurance will cover the damage of  your property in transit.  An honest mover will recommend this route over purchasing additional coverage through the moving company.  If you are purchasing either an antique or a painting, this may have to be added to your policy as a scheduled item.  In Bill’s case, he should have discussed the move of the mirror with his insurance broker before the move.  Bill would have either increased his personal property coverage or have the item added as a scheduled item to the policy.   Typically, an artwork must be added to the policy as a scheduled item because most policies contain limited coverage for fine arts.  You may have to present the invoice to the insurance company to obtain coverage.
  4. Use a quality mover.  Get recommendations from friends.  If you are buying an expensive antique or work of art, get a recommendation from the seller.  A gallery would know movers who have experience in moving fragile antiques and artwork.  However, always make sure that your own insurance covers the move. 

We have handled many property damage and insurance cases.  If you have suffered a loss, please call me at 800-581-1434 to discuss your case.

Mark E. Seitelman, 12/5/08, www.seitelman.com.

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