A look at the design, market and legacy of Victorian pottery

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

A Sad Lesson in Movers Insurance

This month marks the one year anniversary of our relocation from NY to NJ. It was a difficult move and a traumatic one which is why we've never addressed it in this blog before now. We mention it now as a word of caution to anyone moving a large quantity of breakables from one location to another.

In the spring of last year we decided to move our base from Brooklyn NY to southern NJ. We received three estimates for the upcoming move. All were reputable national movers with local affiliates. Of those we chose Wheaton Movers, a national company located in Indiana. In preparation for the move we spent several months carefully packing our smalls. Having dealt in pottery for over 30 years we felt good about the decision to do mostly our own packing because we had packed thousands of smalls for transport over the years and had never had a loss. We decided to allow Wheaton to pack the furniture, small appliances and oddly shaped items.

On the day before the move, the movers arrived early and loaded the 200 boxes of smalls we had packed onto their truck in addition to some of the furniture. The next day they boxed the remaining unpacked items and loaded what remained onto their truck. We made the long trip to the new location that afternoon. We arrived and directed the movers upon their arrival to an area where they could unload their massive truck. As we watched the movers unload they were initially very good with the items but as the day wore on they became tired and sloppy, throwing boxes from the truck to a hand truck below on the concrete driveway. We were concerned with the rough handling but trusted them enough to feel that everything would be alright. They were very professional for the majority of the move so we didn't question it. When the day was done and our furniture in place we were surrounded by hundreds of boxes, four tired movers and a bill of delivery. We signed the bill, paid the movers and tipped them for a job well done.

As we unpacked boxes over the following weeks we found one or two smalls broken here and there but assumed that was unavoidable because of the hundreds of pieces packed. That is until we came across some valuable pieces packed in one of the hard plastic boxes we use to carry our best pieces. There were four pieces of majolica inside that box. They were well packed with multiple layers of bubble wrap as was everything else that had been moved. All of the pieces in the box were damaged—not just damaged but three were destroyed completely beyond hope of repair. Something amiss had clearly happened to that particular box. As we continued unpacking our other things over the next few weeks we noticed that some of our small appliances were missing. We contacted Wheaton and were told to file a claim with their insurance. Before the move we were told there was up to $100k insurance on the move to cover damages. We assembled a thorough list of damages for them including photographs with packing and detailed appraised values for everything damaged and missing. 

When we heard back from the company a few weeks later they denied any legal culpability for the damaged or lost items. They refused to accept responsibility for anything we had packed as well as the pieces that were lost. Their position was that the damaged pieces were not well packed and that we had no proof that the missing items were not delivered because we had signed their bill of lading at delivery. We resubmitted the claim arguing our case point for point. We received exactly the same response the second time as the first time. As long as we had signed a bill of delivery at the conclusion of the move they were going to continue denying the claim. 

What could we say? Of course, when you're surrounded with hundreds of sealed boxes at the end of a move and you have four exhausted drivers wanting to go home, waiting for your signature on their bill of lading to do so, you're going to try to make it easy on everyone by not insisting they sit there while the hundreds of boxes are opened and checked for missing or damaged items.

Should we have been told that what we packed would not be covered by insurance? We probably were, buried in small type within the contract. Frankly, we didn't really think they would cover them. We still would have packed our items ourselves. Our packing was not at fault as is attested to by the hundreds of items that arrived unscathed. What we didn't anticipate was the rough handling and the company denying the missing items. For this we admit our own naïveté of expecting moral responsibility from a company hired for service.

We relay this story as a caution to anyone looking to move valuables. We can't legally hold Wheaton responsible for our claim as per their argument. Whether they are morally responsible is entirely subjective. Beyond that though, we're sure Wheaton is no different from any other mover. We're convinced that mover's insurance is set up the same way across the board among movers. Their contracts are all arranged to allow them freedom to deny any and all insurance claims. We're sure they just see it as good business. We are somewhat less charitable in that assessment. 

In addition to the several thousand dollars we paid the mover we also lost several thousands of dollars of objects in this move which we were led to believe we would receive some compensation for through insurance. We did not. Should you be planning a move, please remember our experience and do not sign a bill of lading with your mover without checking all your valuables first. It's your only protection from the disaster we encountered.

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