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Damaged French Cheese Cargo Triggers High Court Dispute

lorrySupply chains can be lengthy and, when damage occurs to perishable goods in transit, it can be hard to pin down where responsibility lies. That was certainly so in a High Court case concerning a consignment of almost 12 tons of French cheese.

The French maker of 38 pallet loads of camembert and brie contracted with a transport company to move it to a customer in England by refrigerated lorry. The transport company subcontracted the task to a road haulage firm. However, when the cheese arrived, the customer rejected it, saying that its condition was unacceptable. The cheese was ultimately sold at a fraction of its usual value and the transport company was obliged to compensate the seller. The transport company launched proceedings against its subcontractor with a view to recovering its loss of almost 70,000 euros.

The transport company argued that the cheese was damaged due to the failure of the subcontractor’s driver to operate the lorry’s refrigeration equipment in such a way as to maintain the temperature of the load at an appropriate level. The subcontractor, however, argued that the damage arose from either incorrect stowage or the perishable nature of the cargo, for neither of which it bore responsibility.

In ruling on the dispute, the Court found on the evidence that only the five pallets of cheese that were closest to the lorry’s door had in fact been damaged. The manner in which the seller had stowed the cargo and the mode of operation of the refrigeration unit employed by the driver had contributed equally to that damage. The subcontractor was thus found liable to compensate the transport company in respect of half of the modest amount of damage that had been proved.

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