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How To File a Movers Damage Claim (2024 Guide)

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Default Author Icon Written by This Old House Reviews Team + 1 other Reviewer Icon Reviewed by Kent Sisneros Updated 06/05/2024

Hiring movers can save you time and effort, but even experienced professional movers occasionally crack a table leg against a doorframe or drop a box of fragile items. Accidents happen, and a reputable moving company will have a process for filing a claim and customer service representatives who can walk you through the process. Still, knowing what to expect and what to do if something goes awry is helpful. This article outlines the steps for documenting damage and filing a claim and offers some tips to make the process easier.

What To Do Before a Move

We recommend making an inventory list of your belongings regardless, but you should also note the condition and monetary value of any large or valuable items. Document any preexisting damage in writing or, better yet, take photos. This will prevent unscrupulous movers from claiming the damage was already there if your items sustain further damage. Lastly, be aware of items that movers refuse to move and make other plans for them.

Analyze Your Bill of Lading

The moving company will issue you a bill of lading—which serves as both a contract and a receipt—when picking up your belongings. The bill of lading includes details about the logistics of the move, the businesses involved, and an inventory of goods. Your inventory should match the movers’ inventory on the bill of lading. Make sure you point out any discrepancies before the move.

A bill of lading contains a great deal of information and some specialized terms, which can make it a little complicated to understand. Read through it carefully, and ask questions about the information it contains if you need to.

Don’t sign the bill of lading before verifying that your items are in good condition after delivery. Request that the movers note issues on the bill if you notice any damage or missing items as they unload the truck.

Understand Your Coverage

Make sure you understand the terms of your coverage before you file a claim against your moving insurance. Insurance that moving companies offer for free is usually released-value protection, but paid coverage may be full-value protection. Released-value protection offers a small payout based on the weight of the damaged items, and the standard compensation is 60 cents per pound. This insurance won’t replace broken items directly, and your payout will be small for lightweight items.

Full-value protection pays for replacements or repairs and covers your household goods in more detail, but it can be expensive. You can also purchase additional coverage from a third-party provider, but you must do this before you move. Your homeowners insurance offers some coverage for personal possessions during a move, but only in certain circumstances like theft or the moving truck getting into an accident. Your coverage limit will be lower during a move.

What To Do After a Move

Now you’re all moved into your new home, but you notice some of your belongings have sustained damage. Begin the following process below as soon as possible, and note that these steps will be easier if you’ve prepared by taking the actions listed above.

Examine and Document Damage

Your first step should be checking the items the movers brought into your new home for damage. In addition to writing a detailed description of the damage, you should take pictures with your phone or a digital camera. Take photographs from several angles, and try to emulate your original photo before the damage.

However, even after you’ve made thorough documentation, don’t throw away or attempt to repair any damaged items. Leave them exactly as they are—if possible, don’t touch them. Often, a claims adjuster must make an in-person inspection of the damage. You could hurt your claim if you alter the condition of the damaged goods. If the item in question is in pieces, keep all the pieces together in a box or bag.

Insurance might not cover damage to items if you packed your boxes. The moving company could argue that the damage is due to improper packing rather than the loading and unloading process. You stand the best chance of getting reimbursement for the items inside if the box has sustained visible damage, so thoroughly document any damaged boxes.

Contact the Movers

Your first call should be to the moving company itself. You should make your own call even if the movers noticed the damage and volunteered to start the claims process. Contact your move coordinator or a customer service representative at the company and ask about initiating a claim. They should be trained in the process and help you get started. They may handle your claim in-house or put you in touch with a third-party specialist.

A single call or email will rarely suffice. You’ll likely need to go back and forth with the company multiple times. You’ll have automatic documentation of all communication with the company and any insurance agents if you can perform this process by email. Always note the time, date, and full name of the person you spoke to if you must speak over the phone, and take detailed notes on what they say. 

Additionally, save any electronic or paper documentation you have, including contracts, invoices, bills, receipts, and letters. You may need these later as evidence for your claim. Scan or copy your hard copy of a document if the moving company or adjuster asks you to send it. You may also want to get a tracking number or delivery confirmation on any pieces of physical mail so you can prove the company received them.

File Your Claim

A moving company representative should provide you with the printed or electronic claim form you need to move forward. You have nine months from your moving delivery date to file your claim, but it’s best to do it as soon as possible. Communicate with your claims adjuster clearly and specifically. For example, if you’d prefer to repair—rather than replace—a sentimental item, ask for that. Be polite but assertive, and use your knowledge of the bill of lading and your insurance coverage. Be prompt when responding to requests for more information to keep the process moving.

Insurance companies will likely reject your claim if you can’t prove that the item was damaged during the move or if you ask for more reimbursement than the item is worth. Back up your claim with item descriptions and the photographs you took, and use data like credit card statements and receipts to prove monetary value. Remember to keep a paper trail throughout the process.

Wait for Repair or Reimbursement

Moving companies have 30 days to notify you that they’ve received your claim after you file it. They have 120 days to resolve payment or reject your claim. You can file a complaint against the company with the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) or the Better Business Bureau (BBB) if you don’t hear back during this time frame. Notifying the moving company that you’re filing such a complaint will often cause it to take action to avoid potentially losing its licensing.

However, this may not be necessary. You can check in with the moving company or your claims adjuster every few weeks for updates on the process because sometimes claims move slowly. More often than not, though, you’ll receive a check before the 120 days are up. Ensure you understand how reimbursement works through your insurance policy so you aren’t surprised, as you may only receive partial reimbursement.

Taking the Claim Further

These steps will help you resolve most claims to some level of satisfaction. However, if your claim is rejected or the moving company doesn’t provide sufficient reimbursement, you can escalate your claim in other ways. This can take substantial time and effort, so you should consider what it’s worth to you. You should take the next steps as soon as possible and not cash any checks until the process is complete.
One way to extend your claim is to request dispute settlement from the FMCSA. This will start a process of third-party arbitration or, in more serious cases, initiate legal action. Alternatively, you can go straight to small claims court. You should submit a complaint to the FMCSA database, contact your state’s regulatory agency, or file a claim with the American Trucking Association if you feel you’ve been the victim of a moving scam.

Helpful Tips and Considerations

The claims process can sometimes be a long and frustrating one. Here are some tips to make it easier:

  • Check the moving company contract to know how self-packing will impact a claim.
  • Consider additional insurance coverage for sentimental and high-value items. You can transport these items yourself instead of leaving them for the movers.
  • File your claim as soon as possible. The longer it drags on, the more difficulty you may have proving that the damage happened during the move.
  • Keep detailed notes, documentation, and hard copies all in one place, be it a drawer or a file on your computer.
  • Know your rights based on your contract and your insurance coverage. Refer to them when possible.
  • Read the Surface Transportation Board’s resources on Lost or Damaged Items.

Our Conclusion

It’s imperative to start a movers damage claim process quickly and document everything thoroughly. Keep meticulous records, and expect the process to take several months. Remember that most moving companies want to provide a positive customer experience, so they’ll often work with you to help resolve your claim. However, if they don’t, you have some additional methods of recourse through the FMCSA or the courts if you need them.

FAQ About How To File a Movers Damage Claim

What is the best way to file a claim for damages?

Contact the moving company and ask to initiate the claims process to get reimbursement for items damaged during a move.

What are a moving company’s liabilities?

According to the U.S. Surface Transportation Board, “a moving company is responsible if it loses or damages a customer’s household possessions during the move. In this situation, the customer can file a claim with the mover to request financial compensation for the loss or damage.”

What insurance do I need to move furniture?

You can purchase moving insurance to cover your furniture and other items in case they sustain damage during the move.

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