UPS Plays Blame Game After $5,000 Package Gets Damaged

Mike owns a small business, and he ships a lot. He mostly used UPS, and says that he probably spends $12,000 on shipping annually. Of all of the company’s items to get damaged in transit, it had to be the one worth more than $5,000 that was insured, but not for the full value of the package. That’s just how the world works. UPS claims that the item was damaged due to improper packaging, which is interesting because the item had been packaged at a local UPS Store. But loyal Consumerist readers know that UPS Stores are franchises, not owned by UPS. This means that UPS can blame the damage on Mike, since he’s the one who paid someone else to package the item.

I own a small business that does about $12,000 in shipping each year. Until recently, we primarily used UPS.

I’m comfortable with my staff packing and shipping normal boxes. We normally ship 3-5 boxes every single day. For heavy or expensive packages, I’d rather pay a professional to pack the box and take the risk. We are professionals in our field, but just competent in packaging and shipping. So every 2 months or so, we take a package to a UPS or FedEx distribution center/store and pay them to package it.

In this case, our customer insisted on using UPS with their UPS number. The package was heavy (90 pounds), and expensive (over $5,000). We took it to the UPS distribution center that referred us to a UPS store a few miles away. We took it to that UPS store who packaged it and sent it. $133 for packaging, plus whatever our customer paid for the shipping and $5000 of insurance. Expensive, but for a $5000+ package, I felt it was worth it.

Unfortunately, the package was severely damaged in transit. Repairing the package took over $5,000 in costs, including sensitive electronic components and multiple trips to the customer. It’s my fault I didn’t insure it for the full amount.

Unfortunately, that’s when the finger-pointing started. UPS couldn’t visit the customer for several days due to internal scheduling issues. Due to the time-sensitive nature of the package, the customer opened the package and took pictures and video of the damage. UPS denied the claim due to improper packaging; The UPS Store blamed the issue on UPS Transportation and said the store wasn’t responsible.

I find out later that UPS Corporate purchased Mailboxes etc. several years ago, renaming it “The UPS Store”. Each UPS Store, however, is independently owned and franchised. Because the UPS Store is a separate legal entity, no-one appears to be responsible.

UPS Insurance (also a separate company, called Crawford & Company), initially refused to deal with me as the buyer’s UPS number was used. After several months of working within their process, both the buyer and I gave up.

Step 1 – I disputed/charged-back the $133 from the UPS Store with American Express. I paid the UPS Store for a service they didn’t perform properly. AMEX tried to work with the merchant, but the merchant didn’t respond. AMEX credited my account. The UPS Store already had an “F” rating from the BBB and is the “Penalty Box” with Angie’s List.

Comments

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  1. mikedt says:

    So is there any package, or any packaging agent, that UPS will not use to get out of paying for damage? Based on this story it seems like they’ve spun a web of legal entities so that they’ll just point fingers at one another till you give up.

    • Optimus says:

      Actually, UPS requires you to allow a franchise or UPS employee to package your item in order to purchase insurance on that item, so the ball is back in their court with this “defense.” They can either sue the franchise or sue the individual who packaged it, but UPS, due to their own requirement, is at fault.

      • Jeff asks: "WTF could you possibly have been thinking? says:

        That statement is absurd. I’ve insured many packages that I have packed myself.

        • Optimus says:

          The twice in the last 2 years I’ve shipped UPS, they required an employee pack it for insurance coverage.

        • Audiyoda28 says:

          If you involve a third party to ship (ie – UPS Store) and you want to insure, you are required to have the shipping party pack and seal the shipment.

          If you pack and seal the package before entering a third party shipper, you can purchase insurance as long as the packaging appears secure.

          If you are just dropping off a package that’s already packed, sealed, and paid for, they don’t care since the label includes your UPS shipper number.

  2. comedian says:

    FWIW- Crawford & Company isn’t an insurance company.

    Crawford is a third-party claims adjusting company that investigates & handles insurance claims on behalf of insurance companies.

  3. Jayrandom says:

    Is there any possible defense against a charge of improper packaging? If not, what’s the point of insurance?

    • xspook says:

      Use USPS.

      • Dr. Ned - This underwear is Sofa King Comfortable! says:

        Um no, never use USPS. You might as well just try to throw your package to it’s destination for what good they’ll do. UPS and FedEx have their problems, but the USPS is in a league of their own when it comes to damaging, losing, and screwing over shipments.

        • who? says:

          Agreed, USPS is very capable when it comes to damaging things. But in my experience, they at least pay the claim. UPS tries to weasel out of paying for *anything*, no matter how obvious the fault is.

  4. MutantMonkey says:

    Take the local “franchise” to small claims court?

    This is kind of BS though. People aren’t going to a UPS store because they are a franchise. They are going to them because they are, for a lot of customers, the face of UPS.

    It is really neat how you can completely avoid litigation by simply selling your facade and then claim “that isn’t us”.

    • MaxH42 thinks RecordStoreToughGuy got a raw deal says:

      Unfortunately, the name game aside, I think the OP’s only recourse now is to sue the UPS store for the damage done due to improper packaging, and if the store wants to claim the packaging was adequate, let them take on UPS corporate in court about it.

      • kc2idf says:

        I don’t know.

        I think that since UPS lent their name to the francisee, they should be on the hook. If they want to give the image of a single organization, that any reasonable person would say looks like one, then they should be required to act like one.

        Advise the UPS Store francisee, UPS and Crawford that all three of them did business with you under the guise of a single organization, and that someone is going to pay for your damages. If nobody coughs up some dough, then name all three as defendants.

        Granted, UPS might not like going to court for something UPS Store did, but that’s tough. I think they should be liable for the fact that they let someone else do business under their name.

        • Not Given says:

          Sue them both, sit back and watch the fun while they throw each other under the bus. Let the judge or jury assign percentage of blame.

    • Bagumpity says:

      Rental car companies do this all the time. I rent from “Avis” at my local municipal airport every now and then. But if you look at the bill, I’m really renting from “Frank’s Home Repairs, Auto Rental and Franksie the Magic Clown, Inc.” (Not really- I changed the equally silly name to protect the innocent.)

      They’re actually pretty good folks. I’ve had them call me up and ask if I was planning renting because they saw on TV that there was a big snow storm coming and they would hold a 4X4 SUV for me.

    • Coalpepper says:

      I’m surprised that FedEx hasn’t jumped on this opportunity, say by offering FedEx Office (is that still the name) as an alternative to UPS Stores because they’ll take responsibility.

  5. Loias supports harsher punishments against corporations says:

    This franchise store excuse is bullshit. Take some responsibility, UPS.

  6. EnergyStarr says:

    what point is there in using a UPS Store for packaging? Is there an industry-certified packaging store in existence that accepts liability for improper packaging?

  7. HomerSimpson says:

    I’m trying to understand something…who was it that paid the insurance? Did the customer only pay $5000 in coverage and said “aw, heck with it…nothing’ll happen anyway” leaving OP on the hook for the difference between it and whatever the package actually was worth?

    • mike_bruns_99 says:

      Hi Homer,

      While I paid for the packaging, I used the customer’s UPS number for shipping & insurance. I estimated low, that was my fault and responsibility. I never expected UPS to pay more than the $5,000 insurance that I estimated.

  8. Marlin says:

    I think they have the ” improper packaging” set to macro. Is that not the same thing they say about every peice of damaged packageing at UPS?

    • dcarrington01 says:

      I shipped a computer to a friend of mine. I ordered all the components, assembled them then shipped the packed to him. UPS delivered it and it had a large (12-3/4″) hole puncturing the sides of the box clean thru. Went through the box, Styrofoam package/cage, through the steel side of the case, through the motherboard, then through the motherboard mounting plate, out the other steel side panel, and then out the other side of the shipping box. Tried to file a claim, was denied because of “improper packaging”. Please tell me how to package something that will prevent a piece of rebar, 20mm armor piercing round or the like from penetrating the package (other than some armor plated mil-spec packaging)!! Been 7 years, still no money to replace that system, sigh

  9. rookie says:

    four years ago at christmastime i used the ups store to send a few pieces of framed artwork…
    this was two weeks before the day…
    they guaranteed delivery…
    when they failed to deliver on time, and had no idea where the package was, i filed to have my money refunded…
    i stood outside the store and told everyone coming in how i had been “served”…
    i left peaceably when the police arrived…

    i’m still waiting for my refund…

  10. Marlin says:

    Oh and you should not have dione a chargeback.

    Instead you shoudl ahve filed suit against the UPS store, UPS, and the insurance company. Let the courts decide who is the major fault here and pay.

  11. Guppy06 says:

    Between this and my experiences with USPS shipping insurance, I’m suspecting that you should get insurance from the same people doing the transportation. I’ve been more than happy with a third-party insurer for my eBay shipments, even the one time I had to file a claim.

    And what good is a low BBB, etc. rating if people only find out about it after they have a problem?

    • Guppy06 says:

      grr

      “shouldn’t”

    • Traveller says:

      He did, UPS outsources the insurance, as does everybody except maybe the USPS (they like to lose money so they don’t give an ass). They are not in the business of dealing with claims, just shipping. So they outsource it. Also as evident by the independent nature of the stores, they just act as Franchise offering up overpriced boxes and signage.

  12. az123 says:

    I use to run a mail order business, anything that is over $100 insured at UPS you will run into this hassle if you file a claim. Most of the time what I had to do was get them to reject it and then I would file a small claims suit against UPS for the amount plus court cost etc… in each and every case a day or two before we were suppose to go to court they would magically come and pay the insurance claim and settle. Basically they did not want a legal precedent set if they did loose in court so in the long run it was cheaper to just settle.

    Personally I think they need to be investigated for this, as it seems to be SOP for them… but that is a route to look at if you still have the option

  13. DariusC says:

    USPS did the same thing to me. Broke the package in transit and “lost” the package when I told them to it back to me. I was even advised on the packaging, but I was informally told there was improper packaging. No shit? Imp route roper packaging is almost anything that is broken, it’s circular logic! It cost me 1500 because of this mistake and now Paypal’s thugs are after me for the money. Both companies are struck from my consumer list and from my procurement choices for both companies I oversee. It’s unfortunate that even if I take my business to Fedex, USPS will still earn money off me.

    • DariusC says:

      routed* it back to me.

    • MrEvil says:

      How does that figure? I know the Post Office contracts some Express shipment with FedEx, but FedEx only contracts with the USPS for SmartPost shipments. FedEx express and ground don’t use the USPS at any stage.

    • kobresia says:

      Who was responsible for returning the package?

      If it was the buyer, tell Paypal it was never returned. If the buyer can’t provide tracking info that shows the item was received, it falls back on them.

      If USPS was handling the return, then that’s an insurance claim because loss is different than damage.

      • DariusC says:

        That would be fine if paypal didn’t already give the guy his money back and de-credit my account and close the case. I couldn’t believe that they called me asking how I was going to pay down a negative balance that was entirely the fault of two other parties besides the buyer and the seller (USPS and Paypal)! Never again. They will pry the money from my cold, dead hands.

  14. shibotu says:

    UPS recently damaged a friend’s insured painting and tried to claim the damage was already there.

    As soon as he filed in small claims court, they paid up.

  15. Lyn Torden says:

    You can sue TWO parties at the same time (e.g. UPS and the UPS store). The court then sorts out the finger pointing. I wish the court would also cut off some fingers.

  16. Shorebreak says:

    Signs of the times. Don’t take responsibility for anything. Blame the other guy.

  17. Swins says:

    Yawn…how many times are we gonna hear stories like this? Pack it yourself, insure it for the full value…file the claim.

  18. full.tang.halo says:

    “I’d rather pay a professional to pack the box and take the risk. We are professionals in our field, but just competent in packaging and shipping.”

    I’m sorry but any ASO, UPS Store, Packmail, Postal Annex, etc are NOT packing professionals. I’m not saying none of them know what they are doing, but there isn’t some school that people that work there go to so they can get a degree in packaging. I managed a brand new Postal Annex back between 01-04. I went with the guy opening it to the training that corporate gave to new franchise owners. 95% of it was business 101 related, which was odd because of the start-up expense you’d think people would have some idea on how to run a business. The packaging training was basic at best and amounted to about 2 hours at most. These were going to be the people training the people packing your packages, a couple of whom I wouldn’t trust to ship a lead weight.

    I find it very odd that such damage would be done to a package that was insured for $5000. that was the “high value” threshold for UPS when was in the business. Those were treated with much more care than normal packages due to the increased insurance put on them.

    From the sounds of things, being that he mentioned “sensitive electronic components” the UPS store probably didn’t follow published UPS shipping guidelines regarding the packaging of electronics. This being “Separate the products from the walls of the container with a minimum of 2 inches (5.08 cm) of recommended materials.”. Some things requiring up to 4″ of space between the item and the walls of the box.

    In 3+ years and 4 x-mas seasons I had 3 claims of packages we packed and shipped. None of them were due to deficient packaging, more, “over the wall with the plasma tv”/”Ace Ventura” treatment of them.

    • Hoss says:

      “Professional” doesn’t mean they got trained — it means they get paid to do the job.

    • Snowblind says:

      Well, packing is not rocket science.

      I guess technically it is post-rocket science, the science of getting it back to earth in one piece.

    • AustinTXProgrammer says:

      I think you validated that there are professionals at these places, but that still doesn’t stop the idiots who don’t care from ignoring their training:

      As evidence to my claim you included relevant knowledge the average joe on the street wouldn’t know:
      This being “Separate the products from the walls of the container with a minimum of 2 inches (5.08 cm) of recommended materials.”. Some things requiring up to 4″ of space between the item and the walls of the box.

  19. Hoss says:

    Did he or did he not get the insured value of $5,000? He’s saying it’s his fault for not insuring to the full value but he doesn’t say if he got anything. Also he said he paid UPS with Amex but used the customer’s UPS number. Maybe this all is not important in the context of a damaged package but makes one wonder if all the facts are here

    One thing’s for sure — his customer deserves a lot for playing along with the UPS drama, I’d ask for a new package and be done with it.

  20. Rachacha says:

    When paying for additional insurance look to see what is not covered. My wife works for a company that issued a very large crystal award to other companies. They packaged the award up carefully however one broke on the way to the recipient. No problem, it was insured for the full replacement cost of the award, except that the insurance did not cover glass or crystal.

    Now when they ship the award they place tape and cardboard around the portion of the award that is especially prone to breaking, they then wrap the award in a 6 inche layer of bubble wrap and place it inside of a box. That box is then placed inside another larger heavy duty box and filled with packing peanuts. So far, no more breakage.

    • elangomatt says:

      So now the question is, how long until someone posts pictures on Consumerist against your wife’s company for killing the planet and kittens for using too much shipping materials and two boxes?!

      Joking aside, it sounds like the way those awards are packed, it could probably withstand anything FedEx, UPS, or USPS could probably throw at the boxes! Just they way stuff should be packaged.

  21. deathbecomesme says:

    Small claims court. Be ready for a long drawn out battle but stick to your guns. They want you to give up. They have it designed so they can run you in circles

  22. kobresia says:

    It’s really inexcusable that UPS doesn’t do a reasonable job of identifying the UPS Stores as being franchises.

    Seems that it’s mostly the UPS Store’s fault, if the packaging was improper. This isn’t really rocket surgery here, if you can’t drop the package from a height of 4-5′ without the contents remaining untouched and the box maintaining its integrity, it’s poorly packed. If the packing materials will settle or compress in transit, leaving the contents unprotected, it’s poorly packed.

    If UPS drove over the item with a truck, dropped it from more than just a few feet, or it was scorched in the truck that burned-up in that recent FL interstate pileup, then it’s their fault and an insurance claim is due.

    Honestly, it’s nuts to trust a retail pack-n-ship store to get a large/heavy/fragile item right. They’re trained to pack consumer stuff, like vases and pictures and consumer electronics. I’m not going to blame the OP because the UPS Store accepted the task (and perhaps botched it), but some things you just need to expend the effort to do yourself if you want them done right. Shipping in a reusable freight case, double-packing, and that sort of thing really are warranted when the thing is valuable, fragile, and massive.

  23. mike_bruns_99 says:

    Original poster here:

    My customer paid the shipping charges charges & insurance. I estimated the package was worth $5,000, it took about $6,200 to repair. I estimated low, that’s my fault and risk. I’m not looking for $6,200, just the $5.000

    To clarify the payment arrangement, I (the shipper) paid for the packaging with my AMEX as I was responsible for packaging. The recipient paid for the transportation and insurance on their UPS account per the FOB terms.

    UPS is denying all responsibility, I would be happy with the $5,000 but have not received anything.

    One further note: Small claims would normally be the obvious choice. I would take both the UPS Store and UPS Corporate to small claims and let the judge sort out the issue. Unfortunately, the Small Claims limit in Ohio is $3,000.

    • full.tang.halo says:

      I gotta ask, how big was the thing? The weight, 90 lbs doesn’t really tell much about size. $133 for packaging is on the upper end of anything I ever charged that wasn’t a complete custom job requiring boxes be special ordered, double walled, 350 lb test, that were right on the limit of what UPS could ship dimensionally.

      I know you said you don’t ship heavy/expensive stuff every month but get a Uline catalog, buy as big of boxes than you need and fill in the empty space on the smaller stuff. On big stuff if you don’t have trouble getting the top folded down and taped you don’t have enough packing material in it, that stuff breaks down and settles in shipping much more than people think.

      Hope you get made hole, cause someone, UPS or the UPS store is at fault here, not you.

    • Debbie Curtis-Magley says:

      Hi Mike:

      My apologies for the disappointing and frustrating experience you’ve had. My name is Debbie Curtis-Magley and I’m with UPS. I’d like to connect you with our Corporate Customer Relations team to see how we can help you. Please email me your contact details to upsfeedback@ups.com.

      Debbie Curtis-Magley
      UPS Public Relations

      • mike_bruns_99 says:

        Hi Debbie,

        Thank you for your contact information. I’ll send you a separate mail with my contact information. I look forward to working with you to resolve the issue.

        Thanks!

      • who? says:

        So Debbie,

        In order for anyone to get their insurance claim paid, they have to publicly shame UPS on the internet, right?

        Thanks for letting us know.

      • little stripes says:

        It’s always nice when companies only do what they should do because they are publicly shamed.

    • Debbie Curtis-Magley says:

      Hi Mike:

      Thanks for the quick reply to my comment. I understand that you spoke with John from our Corporate Customer Relations team today and that he’s investigating the issues around your claim. Hopefully we’ll have a speedy resolution for you.

      Debbie

  24. mike_bruns_99 says:

    Original poster here:

    My customer paid the shipping charges charges & insurance. I estimated the package was worth $5,000, it took about $6,200 to repair. I estimated low, that’s my fault and risk. I’m not looking for $6,200, just the $5.000

    To clarify the payment arrangement, I (the shipper) paid for the packaging with my AMEX as I was responsible for packaging. The recipient paid for the transportation and insurance on their UPS account per the FOB terms.

    UPS is denying all responsibility, I would be happy with the $5,000 but have not received anything.

    One further note: Small claims would normally be the obvious choice. I would take both the UPS Store and UPS Corporate to small claims and let the judge sort out the issue. Unfortunately, the Small Claims limit in Ohio is $3,000.

    • sparc says:

      Does small claims allow you to sue for $3000 even when the value of your item is over?

      i would explore that route. At least then you could recover almost half the value.

    • ldnyc says:

      THe UPS Store has a “pack and ship promise.” So hold them to it. http://www.theupsstore.com/products-services/packaging-shipping/Pages/promise.aspx

      • tinyninja says:

        Pack and Ship Promise only applies to packages that were paid for in store, as it’s extra insurance paid for by participating franchisees. By using an acct number, the OP paid the shipping charges to corporate, not the store. He is now in an insurance black hole. Someone should have explained this to him–the hub rats who sent him to the UPS Store, the UPS Store itself.

        Glad to see UPS responded, though. I’m curious to know if the item could have been packed at this particular hub but the corporate employees intentionally didn’t want to take the responsibility for high end electronics?

        • ldnyc says:

          Sorry for the oversight on my part. The OP said that they paid for the packaging with their own AMEX, so I’d assumed that the packaging service itself would be covered, regardless of who paid for the shipping – since the claim was being denied for improper packaging. The way I see it, the OP paid for a specific service: proper packaging. UPS claims the service the OP purchased was improper. Therefor the store that the OP paid for that service is responsible for making good on the claim.

      • comedian says:

        UPS Store “Pack & Ship Promise” doesn’t apply here.

        OP used his customer’s UPS account to pay for the shipping and insurance.

        “Pack & Ship Promise requires that packages be shipped on that center‚Äôs UPS account to be covered (among other conditions listed on the page you linked to).

  25. Gorbachev says:

    UPS should be sued for their insurance protection racket. It’s pretty obvious it’s designed in a way to never actually pay for claims.

  26. unpolloloco says:

    Sue them both and let the court work out who is responsible….

  27. capnike says:

    UPS is a master at the the ‘deny and defend’ role of package damage. There is NO ONE [not even a UPS store] who can beat them at this game, unless legally forced.
    They make a show of certifying packaging standards, and even when a shipper has one of these certificates, they will deny a claim based on the fact that that ‘individual’ package was not packaged per the certificate! They [UPS] will tell you that 5% return/damage claim rate is acceptable AND that you should just take it.

    Everyone, be aware when you ship UPS, do the best you can in protecting your package [double wall boxes and lots of bubble wrap], insure for the full amount. and hope they will not toss your package around. I have seen them play ‘football’ with packages.

  28. drtrmiller says:

    Any “UPS Store” franchise should carry a “Pack and Ship Promise,” the full details of which are available here:

    http://www.theupsstore.com/products-services/packaging-shipping/Pages/promise.aspx

    In short, if the item was packed at a participating UPS ship location, all shipment fees, packaging fees, and the actual cost of the item being shipped, regardless as to whether or not insurance was purchased, are to be reimbursed.

  29. skapig says:

    Former UPS Store employee here…

    Since it was packed by the store, it should have met UPS standards (unless it was done wrong). A store owner who stands behind his work will happily go to bat for you. The “improper packaging” ruling is likely a default judgement when something breaks. The average person has a tough time disproving it. All you can do is follow the suggested guidelines (published on the UPS site) and hope for the best. Most of the time it works out. Sometimes it doesn’t. The key is demonstrating that you followed the guidelines.

    Might want to call the district manager too. UPS Store != UPS, but they have a lot of leverage.

  30. mdoneil says:

    I simply don’t use UPS. If vendors ship to me via UPS I inspect the package before I sign for it and I have absolutely no problem refusing a package.

  31. TRRosen says:

    The buyer paid for shipping therefore it was his when is was damaged. Bill him for the repairs and move on it’s his problem to deal with. You can’t sue because you have no standing the item was already sold and in the custody of the buyer. UPS damaged the buyers property not yours!

  32. iluvhatemail says:

    FEDEX, their employees actually work for the company and they do pay insurance claims

  33. Package Man says:

    I feel for the guy. I own a packaging and shipping store similar to The UPS Store and there has been a couple of times where something I packed was damaged and the carrier refused to pay so I wrote the customer a check myself. It hurts the pocket book, but I learned after that that you can’t overpack something.

  34. ancientone567 says:

    Quite frankly they pull this bullshit all the time. It is standard operating procedure for them. Just bring them to court and shame them more and make them pay even more. Make an example of them.

  35. Robert Nagel says:

    I got so tired of UPS constantly saying I didn’t pack well enough that I started to self insure. I charge the customer 1% to cover the insurance and at the present I am way ahead of the game. UPS may be many things and they do some of them very well. However, being an honorable company is not one of them. They lie, cheat and engage in deceptive behavior to keep from paying our a hundred dollars to cover their own negligence. $100 is apparently their price for their honor.

  36. khooray says:

    This happened to me in 2001 with a computer system. Office Depot’s shipping dumbass did the insurance wrong, UPS trashed the computer in shipping.
    Office Depot claims there was no insurance, even though I had a receipt. They point the finger at UPS.
    UPS claims it wasn’t packaged right.
    Never got a penny from either and lost a $700 computer.