In this case, half may be better than nothing

Allison Stinely shipped a piece of artwork via FedEx that arrived badly damaged. FedEx offers compensation for her item that is a lot less than she expects. Is she out of luck?

This case is an important reminder of things to keep in mind when you ship something valuable, especially the limits to a shipper’s liability for loss or damage to shipped items. It’s an eye-opener for those who don’t understand what “declared value” really means.

Stinely is an artist. She used FedEx Ground to ship a painting to a gallery in another state, where it would be shown and listed for sale. Unfortunately, it arrived badly damaged. How badly? She says it was “smashed to bits.”

Was it properly packed? We really don’t know. She says, “The item was packed by a professional packer/shipper who is an affiliate of FedEx.” However, it appears that she did not try to get any compensation from that business.

She filed a claim for her loss with FedEx, expecting the company to pay her $1,000 for the painting’s declared value and to refund the $162 shipping charge.

In the shipping paperwork, Stinely stated the declared value at $1,000 as a precaution. “I declared the value of the piece at $1,000 before shipping ‘just in case’ something happened so I would at least recoup what I would have made had I sold the piece during the exhibit.”

She based the number on what she had made after deducting the commission on the sale of another painting at a different exhibition. While that might seem valid to her, there is no way to know whether the piece would have sold at her asking price or even at all. Unfortunately, she has no formal appraisal of the work, and FedEx isn’t going to just accept her opinion as to its monetary value.

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However, even if she had a legitimate, written appraisal, the amount she would receive would likely be less. That’s because she was working under a false assumption – one that many of us possibly have – that the declared value you put in the shipping document is how much you would recover from the shipper in the event of loss. It’s not.

FedEx clearly says so in its terms and conditions. The company doesn’t make this easy to find. You first have to click the button labeled “Show More” and then click the line that says “Declared Value and Limits of Liability (Not Insurance Coverage).”

Paragraph A sets the tone:

The declared value of any package represents our maximum liability in connection with a shipment of that package, including, but not limited to, any loss, damage, delay, misdelivery, nondelivery, misinformation, any failure to provide information, or misdelivery of information relating to the shipment. It is the shipper’s responsibility to prove actual damages. Exposure to and risk of any loss in excess of the declared value is assumed by the shipper. You may transfer this risk to an insurance carrier of your choice through the purchase of an insurance policy. Contact an insurance agent or broker if you desire insurance coverage. WE DO NOT PROVIDE INSURANCE COVERAGE OF ANY KIND.

The declared value is a maximum, not a guarantee. And the shipper has to prove actual damages. With respect to Stinely’s claim, you also have to read Paragraphs F and F-1.

Shipments (packages or freight) containing all or part of the following items are limited to a maximum declared value of US$1,000:

Artwork, including any work created or developed by the application of skill, taste or creative talent for sale, display or collection. This includes, but is not limited to, items (and their parts) such as paintings, drawings, vases, tapestries, limited-edition prints, fine art, statuary, sculpture and collector’s items.

The clincher comes in Paragraph M, which FedEx puts in all caps:


In fairness to FedEx, those terms are not unique to them. I found that UPS has similar language in their terms of service — on page 31 of a 33-page PDF document.

So unless she bought additional insurance, which she didn’t, the most she could likely collect would be whatever is the least of those listed in Paragraph M.

In Stinely’s case that means replacement cost. But how do you decide what that is for a painting? FedEx apparently determined it to be the cost of the materials she used in its creation. At the company’s request, she sent them a list of her materials along with receipts totaling $873.

FedEx’s response was to offer her half of her materials cost (with no explanation of how they derived that amount) plus a refund of the $162 shipping charge. She wasn’t happy with that, so she contacted us.

I should add that she did quite a bit of self-advocacy first, including many rounds of fruitless phone calls and emails followed by social media via Twitter and Facebook. She might have had better or at least faster results if she had written to one of the company’s customer service contacts that we list on our website.

It probably didn’t help that her communications threatened a lawsuit and the filing of complaints with the Better Business Bureau, her state attorney general, and federal authorities. There are some important suggestions for resolving a consumer dispute on our website that might have helped her.

Our advocate contacted FedEx but was not able to get her anything additional. At this point Stinely seems resigned to taking what she can get and moving on.

The takeaway for the rest of us? When you ship something valuable, you have to understand that stating a declared value doesn’t mean you’re protected from loss in that amount. Ask about the shipper’s limits of liability. If the item is truly valuable, consider paying for insurance. Then be ready to prove your item’s value if it comes to a claim.

Is this enough compensation for Allison Stinely?

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Abe Wischnia

Abe started his working career as a television news reporter and newscaster before moving to corporate communications and investor relations. Now retired and having learned useful tips from, one of his volunteer activities is writing for us.

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