The Carmack Amendment to the Interstate Commerce Act generally imposes strict liability on motor carriers for actual loss or injury to property which occurs during interstate shipments.
However, there are five (5) exceptions outlined in the Carmack Amendment that a motor carrier can use to deny liability for freight claims. The burden of proof for each of the exceptions is on the motor carrier to prove the exception applies.
(1) Act of God: This defense applies when a carrier can show that damage was caused by a physical phenomenon or natural disaster than was not within the control of the carrier. For example, wind blowing over a trailer, or damage caused by tornado or flooding. Not every weather related condition falls under this exception, but rather, only those which are of such unanticipated force and severity that the carrier could not have been expected to take actions to protect against it.
(2) Public Enemy or Act of War: This exception applies to damage caused by hostile acts of military forces that are enemies of the government. This exception does not apply to organized crime.
(3) Act or Default of Shipper: The carrier can avoid liability if it can show that the damage to the cargo was as a result of some act of the shipper such as poor packaging of the product.
(4) Public Authority: Under the Carmack Amendment a carrier can also avoid liability if the cargo damage was caused by the government. For example, quarantines, product recalls, or trade embargos would fall under this exception.
(5) The Inherent Vice or Nature of the Goods Transported: If the goods being transported are naturally subject to defects, diseases, or decay, and the carrier can show that this "inherent vice" in the product was the cause of the damage, and not the carrier’s negligence, there is no liability on the carrier. Examples of these products include fruits, vegetables, and cheese. The burden of proof is on the carrier to show that this exception applies.