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Moving is not easy, and most of us have more stuff than we would like to admit. That is why most people hire moving companies to help them move from one place to another. However, what do you do if something goes wrong during your move? If you have suffered damages after using a moving company consider suing the moving company in small claims court. In this article, learn how to sue a moving company.
Common Lawsuits Against Moving Companies
Here are some of the most common reasons people sue moving companies in small claims court:
A moving company damaged your personal property while transporting it.
A moving company did not show up on the date of your move.
A moving company overcharged you on the date of delivery.
A moving company picked up your belongings but they never delivered the items to the new location.
A moving company provided you with a quote but the quote includes hidden fees.
Here are some public lawsuits filed against moving companies in state small claims courts:
We reviewed a Pasadena small claims lawsuit against a moving company where the person suing moved from Tujunga, California to Boulder, Colorado and they sued for overcharges, late delivery, and missing/ broken items. In this case, the person suing won their case and the judge decided that they should win a total of $6,360.43.
We reviewed a San Diego small claims lawsuit involving a move from Menifee to Lancaster California where the person suing claimed the moving company overcharged them for time spent on the move when the moving company truck broke down. The person suing also claimed when they got to their new home the moving company had damaged their garage floors and personal belongings. In this case, the person suing won their case and the judge decided that they should win a total of $10,000.
We reviewed a lawsuit filed in the Orange County small claims court which involved a move from Aliso Viejo to Garden Grove. The person suing filed the lawsuit to recover for overcharge fees, and broken items. In this case, the person suing won their case and the judge decided that they should win a total of $600.00.
What To Do Before Filing a Small Claims Lawsuit Against a Moving Company
Here are some steps you may want to take before filing a small claims lawsuit against a moving company:
Collect all evidence against the moving company.
Review your contract.
Send a demand letter to the moving company.
Figure out where to sue.
We will review each one of the four steps below.
Begin to Collect All Evidence Against the Moving Company
Collecting all your evidence from the outset of your problems with the moving company will be extremely important once you decide to sue the moving company later on.
If your dispute against a moving company concerns a contract, a quote, fees, or your damaged belongings, here is a sample checklist of the evidence you should consider taking to court:
Any contract or written agreement with the moving company.
Communications with the moving company or their office.
Pictures of the move and your belongings (before and after pick up).
Documents that the moving company gave you.
Any quotes you received from the moving company.
Declarations from witnesses, the moving company, or any other relevant individuals.
If you filed a complaint against the the moving company, you can also consider adding the complaint to your evidence.
People Clerk can help you organize your evidence and sue a moving company in small claims court.
Review Your Contract with the Moving Company
Before suing a moving company, make sure to review your contract with the moving company. There may be sections of the contract that discuss arbitration and where the moving company is limiting their liability of how much they will be responsible for if there are damages or other types of claims. Keep in mind that the judge will be the ultimate decider of whether something in the contract is fair or enforceable.
What is arbitration? Arbitration is a form of dispute resolution like traditional court. Like going to court, in an arbitration, your dispute is decided by a neutral third party, either one arbitrator or a group of arbitrators. Generally, after the arbitrator makes a decision, this decision is final and you don’t need to go to court to have a judge decide your dispute again
However, unlike going to court, arbitration is private. This means that whatever happens at the arbitration, the decision won’t be in court records for others to find out about the moving company’s wrongdoings.
Do you have to go to arbitration with the moving company?
Even though interstate moving companies (moving companies that move you from one state to another) must comply with the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration’s (“FMCSA”) Arbitration Program, you can choose whether or not to participate in this arbitration program. If you don’t want to arbitrate your dispute with a moving company you may file a lawsuit against the moving company instead.
See FMCSA’s Arbitration Program Brochure for more information.
What is the FMCSA Arbitration Program?
FMCSA states that moving companies that engage in interstate transportation of household goods must comply with the FMCSA Arbitration Program. This means that if you hired movers to move you from California to Florida, the FMCSA Arbitration Program applies.
This Arbitration Program is required to satisfy federal law 49 CFR 375.211.
Under this law, interstate arbitration programs must include certain elements. For example, moving companies have to give consumers a summary of their specific arbitration procedures.
Under this program, a mover cannot make you agree to use arbitration before a dispute arises. This is because you have the option to participate in arbitration or go to court when and if a dispute occurs.
What type of damages are moving companies responsible for?
The best way to see what a moving company will or will not be responsible for is to review your contract.
If you moved from one state to another (an interstate move), the Carmack Amendment is a federal law that applies and could affect a moving company's liability.
What is the Carmack Amendment and how may it affect an interstate moving company's liability:
The Carmack Amendment (49 U.S.C. sec. 14706) and applies uniformly to all states and sets limits on a moving company's liability for damages.
The Carmack Amendment only applies to moving companies that engage in interstate moves (moves from one state to another).
Under 49 U.S.C. Section 14706(e), a moving company may, in their contract, limit how much time you have to let them know of any potential claims like damage to your property and how much time you have to file a lawsuit against them. This is why it is very important you review your contract with the moving company.
Under 49 U.S.C. Section 14706(f)(2), moving companies can limit their maximum liability for household items that have been lost, damaged, destroyed, or otherwise not delivered to their final destination.
Remember, ultimately, it will be up to the judge to decide based on your contract and the law what the moving company could or couldn’t do. Even if there is a clause in the contract, the clause may not be enforceable if it goes against the Carmack Amendment or other laws.
Send a Demand Letter to the Moving Company
Some state small claims courts, like California small claims, require you to ask the moving company to pay you for what you intend to sue for before you sue them. Even if asking the moving company to pay you isn’t mandatory in your state, it is highly recommended to send a demand letter to the moving company before suing them. This demand letter serves as a last chance for the moving company to make the matter right on their own accord.
Here are some things you should consider including in your demand letter to a moving company:
How much money does the moving company owe you?
Why does the moving company owe you this money?
How did you calculate how much the moving company owes you?
Typically, people give a moving company 7-14 days to respond to their demand letter.
Decide Where to Sue a Moving Company
If you are considering filing a small claims lawsuit against a moving company you will need to figure out in which small claims court you will sue the moving company.
Unfortunately, in some instances the court you file in will not be the closest or most convenient to you. Before going to the nearest small claims court to file your small claims lawsuit, take some time to figure out which court has "authority" over the moving company. This is known as "jurisdiction." These rules are different in each state.
For example, in New York small claims, you can only sue a moving company in small claims if the moving company has an office in New York.
For example, in California small claims, you will be able to sue a moving company if the move was to or from California or within California.
Suing a Moving Company in Small Claims Court
Consider filing a small claims lawsuit against a moving company to recover for damages they may have caused you. Small claims courts handle a variety of issues that may relate to your dispute with a moving company including property damage or breach of contract. Below we will cover how to sue a moving company, or interstate moving company, for damages in small claims court.
Here are the steps to suing a moving company in small claims court:
Prepare the lawsuit.
File the lawsuit.
Notify the moving company that they have been sued (this is called “serving”).
Prepare for and attend the small claims hearing.
Step 1: Prepare Your Small Claims Lawsuit Against a Moving Company
In order to sue a moving company in a small claims court, you usually need to know if the moving company is doing business as an individual or as a corporation, or LLC.
Where can this information be found:
Your contract with the moving company.
You can verify this information with the Secretary of State in your State or the State agency that handles business registrations.
If the moving company moved you from one state to another, they normally need to be federally licensed. The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration website
What does suing the "correct business entity" mean?
Let's say you had "ABC Moving Company" move your belongings. ABC moving company may be a tradename for ABC Moving Company, Inc. or even a more remote name like The ABCDEFG Moving Company.
Moving companies sometimes use a name other than their real legal name when doing business. This is called a fictitious business name, trade name, assumed name, or doing business as (“dba”). In general, moving companies use fictitious business names or tradenames for marketing purposes if their name is too long.
What happens if I don't sue the correct business entity for the moving company?
For one, you may be suing the wrong moving company. If you win the lawsuit you will receive a "judgment" against the incorrect moving company and this will bring problems down the road.
The goal here is to find the correct person or business to sue.
Step 2. File Your Lawsuit in Small Claims Court
Prepare the lawsuit against the moving company using the proper form, this is usually available for download on your local small claims court website. Here is a guide for California small claims and a guide for New York small claims.
The court will want to know why you are suing the moving company, how much are you suing the moving company for, and finally how you calculated the amount you are suing the moving company for.
File the lawsuit. There are several ways you may be able to file the lawsuit (1) in person at your local small claims court, (2) by mail (3) electronically (not available in all courts), (4) by fax (not available in all courts).
People Clerk can help you prepare, file, and serve your small claims lawsuit.
Step 3: Notify the Moving Company About the Small Claims Lawsuit
Once you file your claim with the small claims court clerk, you will then need to “serve” (notify) the moving company.
There are different rules on how to serve a company in each state so make sure you review the rules for serving that apply to you. The rules in each state tend to be very specific about where you can serve the moving company, who you can serve on behalf of the moving company, and how much time you have to serve the moving company.
Step 4: Prepare for Your Small Claims Hearing Against the Moving Company
It is very important that you prepare for your small claims hearing. The goal is to win your lawsuit against the moving company and the more prepared you are, the better you set yourself up for the hearing.
Here are tips that will help you win your lawsuit against a moving company:
Locate your contract with the moving company. Make sure to review it and understand what it states.
Prepare your evidence. For example, if your lawsuit against the moving company is related to damage to property, you will have pictures of the damaged items (and ideally pictures of the items before they were damaged). You may also have emails back and forth with the moving company showing them the damaged items. You will want to bring to the hearing 3 copies of the evidence (one copy for you, one copy for the judge, and one copy for the moving company).
Prepare your statement for the judge. Be prepared to tell the judge why you are suing the moving company. Most small claims hearings are very informal and the judge will ask you questions about what happened. You will give the judge some background that you are suing a moving company that moved you from one location to another, what they did that was wrong, and how you calculated how much they owe you.
Research the law. It is good practice to read up on the law that supports your claim. For example, if the move was from one state to another, you will want to take a look at the Carmack Amendment (49 U.S.C. sec. 14706). At this stage, you can choose to consult with an attorney if you would like. It can be difficult to find an attorney that specializes in lawsuits against moving companies as many attorneys are looking for higher dollar cases.
Legal Educator @ People Clerk. Claudia is a lawyer and certified mediator in New York and Florida. She has participated in dozens of small claims mediations in New York City courts