Breaking the Liability Limits in Multimodal Transport

Duygu Damar | Ost Colloquium: Multimodal Transport

The United Nations Convention on International Multimodal Transport of Goods of 1980 (Multimodal Convention) states in article 21 that a multimodal transport operator will lose its right to limit liability if it is personally guilty of willful misconduct. However, the Multimodal Convention, which was intended to enter into force together with the United Nations Convention on the Carriage of Goods by Sea of 1978 (Hamburg Rules), did not gain any international support. Presently, there is no universally accepted international regime on the multimodal transport of goods. As a result, the issue of breaking liability limits in multimodal transport cannot be explained by simply referring to article 21 of the Multimodal Convention, but instead depends entirely on the applicable international or national regime. The core problem regarding multimodal transport of goods is determining which legal regime is applicable. Explaining this core problem in detail is beyond the extent of this Article, but it can be said that the approaches taken from both sides of the Atlantic are fundamentally different. Consequently, the criteria for imposing unlimited liability will depend on the applicable regime, and the applicable regime will, in turn, basically depend on which forum handles the case.

This Article will explain the applicable criteria for unlimited liability in the international transport of goods as adopted by the international and national regimes. It will then address the existing and potential problems caused by the application of the relevant criteria and solutions offered by the case law of various countries. Throughout the examination, one vital problem will be continually revisited: lack of uniformity.