Ask a JAG

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Q: Friends of mine had their household goods shipment destroyed in the recent warehouse fire. Although I’ve moved often due to being in the military, and have come to expect that some of my items may be damaged in shipment, I haven’t thought much about the possibility of losing everything. What should I know in order to be prepared in advance?

A: Service members, as well as Defense Department civilians who make a DoD-sponsored move, receive full replacement value protection for their shipments. With FRV, a person whose items are damaged or destroyed in transit may file a claim with the company responsible for the move (the transportation service provider, or TSP). To do so, that person must notify the TSP of the damage within 75 days of the delivery date, and file a claim within nine months of that date.

If a claimant meets those deadlines, the TSP must pay him or her what it will cost to replace the destroyed items or, if possible, what it will cost to repair those items to their original condition. However, TSPs have a maximum amount for which they can be held liable. That amount is whichever is greater: a) $5,000 or b) $4 multiplied by the net weight of the household goods shipment, up to $50,000 (or, for unaccompanied baggage shipments, the gross weight of the shipment). Therefore, if a person’s HHG shipment weighed 500 pounds, and was completely destroyed, the most the TSP is required to pay that person is $5,000.

However, if the person believes that the items in his or her shipment were worth more than $5,000, he or she may also file a claim with a private insurer, if private insurance was obtained for the move, and then with the government. 

An important point to note when filing with the government is that the government is required to pay claimants based on the depreciated value of their goods at the time they were shipped. Additionally, for certain items such as jewelry, the government has a maximum amount that it is permitted to pay. As with TSPs, the government also has an overall maximum amount it may pay for a particular claim (in most cases, $40,000).

Although doing so requires time and energy, it is advisable to inventory and photograph everything you intend to ship, prior to your next move. Movers who indicate on your inventory that you are shipping “boxes of DVDs” have not done you much good if, later on, you are forced to recall exactly how many DVDs and their titles. Further, with a comprehensive inventory, you will be better able to determine whether it would be beneficial to obtain private insurance.

This column is not intended as individual or specific legal advice. If you have specific issues or concerns, you should consult a judge advocate at 421-4152/civ. 0711-729-4152.