NEW ORLEANS – The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit has reversed and remanded a personal property damage claim that went in favor of North American Van Lines of Texas.
In July 2010, plaintiff Lauren Williams contracted with North American to have her personal property shipped from New York City to Austin, Texas, according to the complaint. The shipment allegedly arrived over a week late, though much of the property was missing, and much of what did arrive was damaged. North American’s employees admitted that the damage to the plaintiff’s possessions was among the worst they had ever seen, and North America concedes that the damage was a result of its mishandling of the shipment, according to court filings.
The plaintiff’s attorney sent a letter to North American demanding $171,500 in damages, $10,000 for mental anguish, and $2,750 in attorney’s fees. North American offered less than $17,000, according to court records. North American justified its significantly lower offer by claiming that it did not damage certain items and could not establish the values of many others.
The plaintiff originally filed suit against North American in Texas State court, and North American removed the case to federal court because the claim arose out of in interstate shipment.
The district court concluded that the plaintiff did not make a claim for the payment of a specified or determinable amount of money, holding that her demand letter were based in part on an “estimate” of $170,000 and that the plaintiff never listed the value of her individual items.
The appeals court found this decision to be in error, stating that while the figure was based on an “estimate” of the items’ total value, it was not meant to be an “estimate” of the damages she was seeking.
The appeals court further found that the district court’s requirement for the claimant to itemize the value of the components of her claim to be in error.
The appeals court reversed the grant of summary judgment in favor of North American, and sent the case back to district court for further proceedings.
The case was heard by Judge Edith Brown Clement of the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals.
Case no. 12-51006.