Where Can I Find Transportation Law?

(Issue Date: November 2008)

William J. Augello was one of the country’s foremost transportation lawyers and a champion of shippers’ rights. In this column, we attempt to answer readers’ questions as we believe he would. Previous columns, including Bill Augello’s, may be found in the “Content Library” on the PARCEL website (www.PARCELindustry.com).

When I wrote an article on this topic in the early 1990s, the Internet was in its infancy and the best source for transportation law was the local public library or the library of a nearby law school. In 2008, such libraries are still very useful. However, the past decade has revolutionized the field of legal research, making it possible to find almost everything you need to know about transportation law from any place you may be with a laptop and a Wi-Fi connection. Though research can now be far more convenient and thorough, the deluge of options to anyone researching a topic can be overwhelming. A simple Google search of the term “transportation law” brings over 12,000,000 hits! Of all of these websites there are a few of which stand out AND whose content can be relied upon.

Westlaw and LexisNexis (www.westlaw.com and www.lexisnexis.com), which are both subscription services, set the standard for online legal research. Both offer approximately the same information, and the question of which one to use is generally a matter of personal preference. Both websites have the most detailed information for most jurisdictions to be found on the Internet. Many law libraries offer at least one of the services for free for a limited amount of time at their public access computers.

Perhaps the best free website for legal information is that of the Cornell University School of Law Legal Information Institute, www.law.cornell.edu/. Cornell’s website has a vast number of legal opinions, statutes, regulations and publications. The website also has a convenient search tool and is very easy to browse and navigate.

Another free website is http://bulk.resource.org/, with a tremendous amount of information relating to the federal government. The following government websites are also good resources:

(1) U.S. Supreme Court Decisions:
http://supreme.justia.com/index.php

(2) The United States Code:
http://uscode.house.gov/search/criteria.shtml

(3) The Code of Federal Regulations:
http://www.gpoaccess.gov/CFR/index.php

(4) Surface Transportation Board Decisions (but not decisions of the former ICC):
http://www.stb.dot.gov/

(5) Pending or recently passed federal legislation:
http://thomas.loc.gov/

Additionally, most, if not all, states have similar websites relating to state statutes, regulations and cases. For example, in Minnesota, state court decisions may be found at www.mncourts.gov. Statutes and regulations can be found at the Revisor of Statutes website at
www.revisor.leg.state.mn.us/pubs/.

It should be kept in mind that the laws of an individual state can relate to topics not covered at all within the federal statutes, for example, a state’s version of the Uniform Commercial Code (UCC). Also, almost all of the states have laws and regulations relating to carrier operations, required levels of insurance, limitations on the scope of shipper-carrier indemnification agreements, and so forth.

In addition to websites such as those discussed above, there are also resources available to help one analyze and understand the statutes and cases. These include Transportation, Logistics and the Law by William J. Augello and Freight Claims in Plain English by George C. Pezold and William J. Augello. The website of the Transportation Logistics Council (www.tlcouncil.org) lists several other similar publications written with the transportation professional in mind.

Another well-known and respected work is Sorkin’s Goods In Transit, which is a six volume work summarizing literally thousands of cases. The list goes on, but this should get you started. Keep in mind that lawyers spend at least three years in law school learning how to apply case law and legislation to actual circumstances so don’t get discouraged if you get a little confused or you can’t always find an answer to your question. And if you have a question you can’t find an answer to, send it my way! All for now!

Brent Wm. Primus, J.D., currently serves as the General Counsel for the Freight Transportation Consultants Association and is the CEO of transportlawtexts, inc. and Primus Law Office, P.A. Your questions are welcome at brent@transportlawtexts.com.