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What Is a House Bill of Lading?

Jessica Ellis
Updated May 17, 2024
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A house bill of lading, which is also referred to as a forwarder's bill of lading or a B/L, is a type of receipt used in shipping. Sent by a transportation or forwarding company to the shipper, the document is an acknowledgment of the receipt of goods that are to be shipped. Used for both legal purposes and for the accurate maintenance of records, it must carry specific information about the items shipped, the companies and methods of shipping involved, and the value of the shipping contract.

Shipping is a complex business that involves thousands of separate carriers, shippers, and modes of transportation. With working ports, airports, and freight stations moving enormous amounts of goods each day, proper record keeping is essential to managing everything smoothly. A house bill of lading is one of the most important documents used in shipping, since it serves as a record of the contract between the forwarder and shipper, as well as of a record of the items being shipped.

One of the major functions of a house bill of lading is that it serves as evidence of the cargo being shipped. The issuance of the document acknowledges that the carrier has received the cargo for shipment and inspected it for any signs of damage. If there are no signs of damage upon receipt of the goods, any damage incurred during the shipping process may be the legal fault of the carrier. If, however, the B/L notes damage already present upon receipt, the liability may legally rest with the initial shipper.

The house bill of lading also serves as evidence that the carrier has a contract to ship the cargo. If cargo does not have an associated B/L, the carrier may be moving it illegally. The document only denotes a contract between the shipper and the carrying company, not the specific ship, train, or airplane that carries the goods. If a problem occurs with the shipment, the shipper or recipient may sue the contracted carrying company but not the specific vessel itself.

Another important function of the house bill of lading is to permit the authorized carrier to act as the legal custodian of the goods. If the intended recipient does not have appropriate documentation that entitles him or her to pick up the shipment at its destination, the carrier may legally hold the goods until the right documents can be produced. This also gives the carrier the responsibility to ensure that goods are given to the legal recipient only; failure to properly authorize a release of goods can leave the carrier legally liable.

Information included on the house bill of lading typically includes the names of the shipper, carrier, and recipient, as well as contact information for all parties. The document may contain information about the ports or stations where the goods are initially received by the carrier, and the destination port of the shipment. An inventory of goods, as well as information about weight, size, and declared value, is also a critical component of the document.

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Jessica Ellis
By Jessica Ellis , Writer
With a B.A. in theater from UCLA and a graduate degree in screenwriting from the American Film Institute, Jessica Ellis brings a unique perspective to her work as a writer for WiseGeek. While passionate about drama and film, Jessica enjoys learning and writing about a wide range of topics, creating content that is both informative and engaging for readers.

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Jessica Ellis

Jessica Ellis


With a B.A. in theater from UCLA and a graduate degree in screenwriting from the American Film Institute, Jessica Ellis...
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