Let’s look at two recent rulings of the Italian Supreme Court concerning, respectively, the right to sue a carrier at sea for damage caused to the transported goods and the gross negligence of a land carrier in a case of “container exchange”.

1.Right to sue a carrier at sea for damage caused to the transported goods

As is well known, the Bill of Lading is a document acknowledging receipt of the goods being shipped that can be transferred by endorsement and entitles its holder to obtain delivery of the goods at the port of discharge.

The Italian Supreme Court[1] has recently reiterated that the holder of a Bill of Lading acting against the carrier, as mere representative of the receiver, to claim compensation for the damage suffered by the shipped goods during transport, has no capacity to sue if the B/L has not been endorsed to the same by the receivers.

The case referred to the Italian Supreme Court was exactly about a claim for damages brought by the Policyholder who, at the time of delivery of the goods, acted as mere representative of the receiver with a bill of lading that was not specifically endorsed to the order of the Policyholder.

Although the Court of First Instance upheld the claim for damages brought by the Policyholder, the Court of Appeal of Genoa[2] overturned the first-instance ruling, rejecting the claim for damages at issue in light of the claimant’s lack of title in the substantive relationship (actually resulting from the B/L) submitted in the case.

The Italian Supreme Court has essentially confirmed the decision of the Court of Appeal of Genoa, stating that “The holder of a Bill of Lading, who, as mere representative of the receiver, upon delivery of the goods asserts its right to compensation against the carrier as a result of the damage caused to the goods being transported, lacks title in the substantive relationship if the policy has not been endorsed by the receiver to the order of the policyholder”.

The Supreme Court further established that “the territorial court has correctly denied that the holder of the Bill of Lading had grounds for claiming damages, since such a relief is available only to the receiving company, which is the owner of the cargo”.

2.A case of gross negligence of a land carrier

The Supreme Court [3] has considered the liability of a land carrier in the case of a “container exchange”.

In a nutshell, a shipper sued both the shipping agent and the land carrier (in charge of carrying a load of musical instruments from Rimini to the Port of Ravenna) claiming compensation for the damage suffered as a result of the total loss of said load.

Indeed, the goods were mistakenly loaded inside a container other than the one indicated in the consignment note. As a consequence, the container with the goods in question was dispatched to Algeria instead of Japan where the goods should have been delivered.

At first instance, the Court of Milan accepted the claim for damages and such decision was substantially confirmed also by the court of second instance[4]. In particular, the Court of Appeal, noted the gross negligence of the land carrier for not checking the correspondence between the container indicated in the consignment note and the one in which the goods were actually loaded.

The Italian Supreme Court confirmed that, in the case at hand, there was the sole responsibility of the land carrier for not checking that the goods were loaded into the container in which they ought to be actually stored, since the land carrier was the only one aware, on the basis of the consignment note, of the relevant identification data necessary due to the presence of another container heading for a different destination.

According to the Italian Supreme Court, the foregoing activity of control – which was to be carried out, anyway, in the wake of the loading phase and, hence, when the goods were already available to the land carrier – was by no means extraneous to the carriage performed by the land carrier, but was to be considered as one of those obligations ancillary to the performance of said contractual relationship necessary to attain the practical results expected by the parties, also taking into account the principles of good faith and fairness.

In the light of the foregoing, the Italian Supreme Court held the land carrier responsible for the loss of the goods, and ordered it to compensate damages arising therefrom it.