A quick question for all creditors out there. How many of you require a signature from your customers upon receipt of delivered goods? Better yet, how many of you actually deliver the goods that have been sold?
The more likely scenario is that delivery of your goods to customers is done via a “common carrier.” Generally, a common carrier is a third party business that exists for the transportation of goods and/or people. More specifically, I am referring to all of the goods that you, as a creditor, have sold and shipped to customers via FedEx or UPS.
In those cases, the customer receives the goods from the common carrier and signs for them. As we all know, this signature is often electronic. The common carrier then charges either your or the customer’s account for the shipping depending on the parties’ agreement, and business continues as usual.
Then the customer’s payments start coming late, then payments cease altogether. The customer ignores your demands for payment, and you decide to retain a creditors’ rights attorney.
Suit is filed, and your former customer, now a defendant, files a response denying that the alleged goods were ever received. Your creditors rights attorney provides you with a copy of the defendant’s response, and asks you to address the dispute regarding receipt of the goods.
Once your blood stops boiling and the cursing subsides, you respond that will simply contact the common carrier used, FedEX, and obtain copies of the signed delivery forms. However, your frustration continues to mount when you are told that your common carrier only retains records for a period of six months.
Therein lies the problem. By the time suit is filed and discovery is initiated, it is very likely that the common carrier you used for delivery of the goods has since purged their records in accordance with their own documentation retention system. Even if you were able to contact the common carrier and obtain copies of the documents, there are still a number of evidentiary hurdles present, such as hearsay, authentication and foundation.
One possible solution may be to implement a document retention process regarding signed delivery forms from common carriers into your regular business practices. This may allow you to take advantage of the “Business Records Exception” of evidence. This rule allows for the entry of certain documents, in this case the commone carrier signature documents, in cases where there is not a first hand witness, in this case the FedEx or UPS man, available to testify as to those documents. The rationale for the exception being that employees are under a duty to be accurate in observing, reporting and recording business facts, so that typical concerns regarding reliability of such third party documents are somewhat limited.
In order for a record to meet the requirements of the Business Records Exception, four general requirements must be met: 1) The record was made and kept in the course of a regularly conducted business activity; 2) It was the regular practice of the business activity to make the record; 3) The record was made at or near the time of the event that it records; 4) The record was made by, or from information transmitted by, a person with knowledge acting in the regular course of business.
While the implementation of such a system may seem like a troublesome task, once in place it could easily be maintained, and will allow you, as a plaintiff/creditor, to prove your case a lot easier.