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Jan.26, 2015

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Q&A 68 THE JOURNAL OF COMMERCE JANUARY 26.2015 By Colin Barrett FOR B/LS, STICK TO THE KISS PRINCIPLE Q: WE'RE A THIRD-PARTY logistics provider handling warehouse distribu- tion work for clients. We always ship out orders using trucking bills of lading. One client raised an interesting ques- tion about the "number of original trucking bills of lading issued." I know this client isn't confus- ing a trucking B/L with an ocean B/L. I know quite a bit about ocean B/Ls, but I didn't have a good answer for my client regarding the number of original trucking B/Ls to issue in reality. Because the trucking B/L doesn't involve "transfer of ownership," I would say it doesn't matter if we print one or two originals for drivers to sign for receipt. In fact, we sometimes use one original trucking B/L for drivers to sign. Sometimes, drivers sign two originals: We keep one and the driver keeps one. I'd appreciate your input regarding this question. A: THE LEXICOGRAPHER IN ME BOGGLES at the notion of there being more than one "original" of any- thing. I mean, the whole idea of the word is to denote the genuine article, as distinct from copies, of which logi- cally there can be only one. I am aware, however, of legal and commercial circumstances in which a need for multiple "original" docu- ments does exist. Your reference to ocean bills of lading is one such instance, with the different physical documents being needed for different purposes. Mere copies can't meet the purposes properly, and because the documents often are needed in sepa- rate places or must be maintained in separate files, multiple "originals" are the necessary — or certainly conve- nient — answer. Contemporary technology makes it easy to meet the requirement for two or even more "original" versions of the same document. Printouts of the same computer file are physically indistinguishable from one another, signatures and initials can readily be inscribed on multiple copies, and it's practically impossible to deter- mine which "original" is the chicken and which is the egg. As long as no changes were made in the underly- ing computer file in the interim, you'll never know which printout actually existed first and is therefore the true "original." Both, or all, therefore may serve that purpose. To be sure, availability of these multiple "original" documents isn't without potential problems. The fact that more than one person may possess indistinguishable copies of the same document is fraught with opportunities for chicanery if not monitored. It's possible, as I men- tioned, that the versions may not be identical (for example, the computer file may have been altered, delib- erately or inadvertently, between printouts), and even a misplaced punctuation mark may create a sub- stantive difference between them. Therefore, unless there is some pragmatic reason for having mul- tiple originals, it's a good idea to avoid doing so. And that, rather cir- cuitously, brings me around to the answer to your question: In the gen- eral run of commerce, there's no valid reason for having more than one original motor carrier B/L. Accord- ingly, I'd say the maximum number of original motor carrier bills of lad- ing that should be issued is one. You mention that you sometimes violate this principle for reasons of your own operating or administra- tive convenience, by having drivers sign multiple copies of the B/Ls as "originals." I'm sorry to tell you, but I think this is a shortsighted idea. You're simply allowing too many possibly conflicting documents to be in circulation. These documents are intended for on-the-spot notations by various parties, such as the driver, the consignee and others. This opens the door to questions about condition of the goods on delivery, timeliness of delivery, etc., and could have a signifi- cant impact on claims and the like. As I say, ordinarily there will be no need for multiple "originals" of a trucking B/L. That being the case, no more than a single origi - nal should exist. That document properly belongs in the hands of the driver. You, as the 3PL, have no need to retain a duplicate original for your file. By doing so, you're simply cre- ating potential confusion with no benefit worth mentioning. I point to a fairly familiar acro- nym: KISS — Keep It Simple, Stupid. There are, of course, times when things can't be kept completely simple without compromising what you're trying to do. This isn't one of those times. Keeping the B/L situa- tion simple is therefore desirable. JOC Consultant, author and educator Colin Barrett is president of Barrett Transportation Consultants. Send your questions to him at 5201 Whippoorwill Lane, Johns Island, S.C. 29455; phone, 843-559-1277; e-mail, Contact him to order the most recent 351-page compiled edition of past Q&A columns, published in 2010. Unless there is some pragmatic reason for having multiple originals, it's a good idea to avoid doing so.

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