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Belated Written Complaint Stops Vegetable Grower’s Lawsuit Against Florida Air Cargo Provider

A vegetable grower lost its ability to sue its air cargo service provider because it waited too long to send out a written complaint. Although the air cargo provider wrongfully refused to accept the grower’s payment and delayed the shipment of perishable produce by nearly a week, an international convention barred legal action unless the injured party filed a written complaint with the other party within 14 days. Since the grower took 28 days to give the air cargo provider a written complaint, the grower was not permitted to proceed with its case, the 3d District Court of Appeal ruled.

Mas & Sons Jardiniers Ltd. was a Canadian grower, packer, and shipper of vegetables that had retained Florida West International Airways, Inc. to transport its produce. In late 2006, Florida West had carried a shipment of Mas vegetables from Costa Rica and Guatemala to Florida West’s warehouse in Miami. When Mas’ broker arrived at the warehouse and provided the airline checks in U.S. funds for payment, Florida West refused to release the produce, believing that the checks were not in U.S. funds. The vegetables sat in the airline’s warehouse for another six days. By the time Mas finally got the produce to Canada, some of the vegetables were turning brown, and others were starting to rot. Mas signed for the cargo but wrote that it was received under protest. Mas’ buyer purchased some of the vegetables at a reduced price and outright refused to buy the rest.

In the week after the vegetables arrived in Quebec, Mas contacted the airline to complain. Florida West emailed Mas a complaint form. Mas completed the form, which represented the first written complaint related to the damaged produce, and returned it to the airline 28 days after it took possession of the produce.

Mas sued Florida West for its losses incurred as a result of the damaged produce. The airline argued that an international convention governing the international transport of passengers, baggage, and cargo, known as the Montreal Convention, applied to the relationship between Mas and it. Since that convention mandated a 14-day period for submitting complaints in writing regarding damaged shipments, Florida West contended that it was entitled to summary judgment in its favor. The trial court agreed.

Mas appealed but lost. The convention was clear that complaints must be made in writing and must be made within 14 days of receiving the allegedly damaged cargo. The appeals court concluded that Mas’ writing down that it was receiving the shipment under protest, which did occur within the required 14-day timeframe, did not constitute a valid written complaint. When Mas signed for the vegetables and wrote “protest,” that document was not made with Florida West and was not sent to the airline. The only written document that Mas ever sent to Florida West was the completed complaint form, and that document was submitted 14 days after the permissible complaint period had expired.

The only circumstance in which Mas could have continued to pursue its case against Florida West, despite not complying with the 14-day complaint timeframe, would have been if the airline had committed fraud. However, Mas did not allege that the airline had perpetrated any acts of fraud in this case. Without a fraud claim, the lateness of the complaint form barred any legal action against Florida West by Mas.

Certain business disputes and commercial damages may require you to take quick action. If you’ve been harmed by a business vendor or commercial service provider, contact the Florida commercial litigation attorneys at Stok Kon + Braverman right away. Our team has a long track record of assisting business clients with pursuing their rights. Talk to our commercial litigation attorneys today.

Contact us online or by calling (954) 237-1777 to schedule a consultation.

More blog posts:

Default Judgment Blocks Arguments About Liability in Florida Contract Dispute Case, Florida Business Lawyers Blog, Nov. 11, 2015

What to Do When Your Florida Business is Not Paid for Services Rendered, Florida Business Lawyers Blog, Aug. 21, 2015


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