A bill of lading (BOL) is a document truckers need to move a cargo shipment. It functions as a receipt of services as well as a contract between the carrier and the shipper. Both the carrier and shipper need this legal document. Otherwise, they cannot process the shipment or invoice it accurately.
What Information Does a BOL Contain?
BOLs contain a wide variety of information. Some information includes:
- Names and addresses of the shipper and receiver
- Account numbers businesses use to track the shipments
- Packaging used for the shipment
- Value of the shipment
- Number of units shipped
- Shipment date
- Description of shipment items
This multipart document contains necessary information to process a freight shipment. The BOL functions as a contract in the absence of a shipper-carrier agreement. Less than truckload shippers (LTL) make the most frequent use of BOLs. They transport small freight and are often more cost effective than full truckload services (FTL). Two of the best known LTL carriers are FedEx Freight and UPS Freight.
Recent Changes to BOL Standards
Controversy is brewing between the National Shippers Strategic Transportation Council (NASSTRAC) and the National Motor Freight Traffic Association (NMFTA). The NMFTA made changes to the uniform BOL to bring its provisions up to date and provide more clarity. NASSTRAC disagree citing the new terms and conditions for proving carrier negligence.
NASSTRAC and other shipper groups claim that these changes violate the Carmack Amendment, which established liability standards for cargo. Legal representation for NMFTA countered that the updated BOL standards do not change the laws for showing burden of proof.
For now, the Surface Transportation Board (STB) is siding with the NMFTA. It denied a petition asking to suspend the BOL changes. However, STB is willing to consider further pleadings before deciding whether to investigate the changes.
Further muddying the waters though is the fact that the STB cannot suspend the changes to the uniform BOL. They can only investigate and make suggestions. If the STB decides to investigate, their decision may bring NASSTRAC and NMFTA together in court to battle over terms.