A dispute arose over claims for damages to a ship. The vessel's wheelhouse had been damaged during unloading in the port of Antwerp.
The plaintiff (the carrier and shipowner) had requested the defendant (the principal) to settle the claim out of court. Further, it repeatedly requested a waiver of the statute of limitations, which was granted by the defendant with the usual reservation that the plaintiff's corresponding claims were still due and not yet statute-barred.
In the meantime, the plaintiff's insurer settled the damages in two instalments. The plaintiff subsequently filed a legal action and demanded its claim. The defendant objected on the grounds that the limitation period had expired.
Apart from a €2,500 deductible, the Duisburg-Ruhrort Shipping Court dismissed the action because the statute of limitations had become effective. The plaintiff appealed.
The Higher Shipping Maritime Court dismissed the appeal.(1) In its opinion, the Duisburg-Ruhrort Shipping Court had rightly considered the claim to be time barred insofar as the claims had been settled by the insurer.
The plaintiff's claims had been subject to the short, one-year limitation period under Article 24 of the Budapest Convention on the Contract for the Carriage of Goods by Inland Waterways (CMNI).
The statute of limitations regulated thereunder also applies to:
- damage to a mode of transport; and
- carriers' claims against a sender.
This follows from the wording of Article 24(1) of the CMNI, which states that all claims arising from contracts regulated thereunder become time barred one year after the day on which the goods were or should have been delivered to the consignee. In the present case, the claim's legal grounds were therefore irrelevant, as was the claimant's identity.
However, the claims were statute-barred because they had been transferred to the insurer by virtue of the law. The waivers of limitation declared by the defendant, in accordance with the regulations, had therefore not led to a further suspension of the limitation period. Although the plaintiff had been the recipient of the defendant's declarations of intent, it was no longer the owner of the claims at the time of receipt (with the exception of the €2,500 deductible). The conditions for waiving the limitation period were thus no longer fulfilled.
The scope of the short (ie, one year) statute of limitations under national and international transport regulations should not be underestimated. Therefore, Section 439 of the Commercial Code, Article 29 of the Convention on the Contract for the International Carriage of Goods by Road and Article 24 of the CMNI apply to all claims relating to transport, regardless of which party raises them or whether they concern tortious or enrichment matters.
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