Burden of Proof under Hague Rules

A recent English Supreme Court decision provided useful clarification on the burden of proof applicable in cargo disputes under the Hague Rules.

The case of Volcafe Ltd and Others v. Compania Sud Americana de Vapores SA ([2018] UKSC 61), dealt with a cargo of coffee beans shipped in multiple containers from Colombia to ports in North Europe. The cargo showed signs of damage by condensation upon arrival to the port of discharge.

The Supreme Court unanimously held that the carrier bore the burden of disproving negligence under Articles III.2 and IV.2 of the Hague Rules. Because the carrier could not prove that it exercised reasonable care for the cargo and specifically the preparation of the containers to prevent condensation damage, the carrier was held liable for the cargo damage.

The decision is a welcome one for cargo interests and their insurers and reflects the practical realities of containerized shipping with carriers having full control over the cargo placed in their care.

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