In this judgement, the full session of the First Chamber of the Spanish High Court analysed the liability of the transport consignee, determining how to assist shipping companies against those interested in the cargo when the cargo is subject to damages or losses as a result of an inadequate execution of the transport contract, a judgement that represents a radical turn with regards to the jurisprudence that had been previously followed.
The claim that led to this review of jurisprudence was lodged by the insurance company Unión Fénix de Seguros y Reaseguros, S.A. against the company Naviera de Odiel de Contenedores, S.A., the agent responsible for the vessel that transported the cargo, who was sued for the damages caused to a consignment of frozen fish as a result of insufficient cooling in the container during transportation for more than 24 hours due to a power cut in the vessel.
The Court of First Instance Number 20 of Barcelona dismissed the claim on the grounds of a lack of liability, therefore rejecting the claim for losses. It concluded that the consignee was only responsible for the consignment if there was risk assumed in the operation, as established under the Agency Contract Act of 27 May 1992.
The Judgement was appealed before the Appeal Court of Barcelona, which confirmed the decision adopted by the first instance court, adding that the consignee was only responsible if the contract was subscribed in his name and not in that of a third party.
Both judgements comply with the existing jurisprudence on this matter, supporting the idea that the consignee of the vessel is governed in terms of liability by the legal framework of the 1992 Agency Contract Act and of the State Ports and Merchant Navy Act of that same year.
However, the High Court appealed the judgement of the Appeal Court of Barcelona, which was challenged by the insurance company, accepting the claim and opening the path to a change in jurisprudence.
The full session of the First Chamber of the High Court in its judgement of 26 November 2007 approved a doctrine that modifies the previous jurisprudence, accepting the liability of the consignee as a criterion as established under article 586 of the Commercial Code and under Section 3 of the Maritime Transport Act, therefore establishing a legal and direct liability of the owner of the damaged goods, regardless of the internal relationship that exists between the two parties and of the permanent or occasional nature thereof.
Therefore, it was decided that the power cut was responsibility of the transporter, thus broadening the transporter’s liability to that of the consignee or shipping agent, based on the assumption that with the new jurisprudence all the mechanisms for the protection of the rights of the owners of the goods damaged during transport can be duly implemented.