A U.S. law which, among other provisions, establishes statutory responsibility for the carrier’s liability for certain types of damage. Where the COGSA applies, generally speaking, the vessel or carrier is responsible for damage resulting from negligence in the loading, stowing and discharge of cargo. It is not responsible for damage resulting from errors of navigation or management of the ship, from unseaworthiness of the vessel (unless caused by lack of due diligence to make it seaworthy), or from perils of the sea, fire, and a number of other listed causes. The burden of proof in establishing fault will rest at times upon the shipper and at times upon the carrier.
The COGSA provides that the shipowner’s liability will be limited to US$500 per shipping package, and states that there is a one-year time limit for filing suit against the carrier. At issue is the definition of a shipping package. Originally, a package might be a simple carton or crate. Over time, carriers argued that a shipping package was a pallet, and then a container. This had the effect of diluting carrier liability. Also, the degree to which a steamship company can be held responsible for damage sustained by a specific shipment is frequently difficult to determine. COGSA applies to import and export shipments and, by agreement, to much U.S. coast-wise and intercoastal business as well.