Duhaime's Law Dictionary

Bill of Lading Definition:

A document that a transport company possesses acknowledging that it has received goods, and serves as title for the purpose of transportation.

Related Terms: Charterparty

A written receipt issued by a carrier, a transport company, that it has taken possession and received a item of property and usually also confirming the details of delivery (such as method, time, place or to whom), and serves as the carrier's title for the purpose of transportation.

In Mills & Co., English judge Selbourne wrote:

"The primary purpose of a bill of lading, although by mercantile law and usage it is a symbol of the right of property in the goods, is to express the terms of the contract between the shipper and the shipowner."

In Aman, the Supreme Court of North Carolina defined the word and added the statement of the law that a bill of lading is not a necessary thing for the carrier to be liable for the safe delivery of the item of property.

"An instrument issued by the carrier to the consignor, consisting of a receipt for the goods and an agreement to carry them from the place of shipment to the place of destination, is a bill of lading. Of course it is not essential that a bill of lading be issued.

"(T)he relationship of carrier and shipper may be created without any written bill of lading."

Canada has a Bill of Lading Act which states that (RSC 1985 Chapter B-5, at ¶4), and in a marvelous and timeless legalese experience:

"Every bill of lading in the hands of a consignee or endorsee for valuable consideration, representing goods to have been shipped on board a vessel or train, is conclusive evidence of the shipment as against the master or other person signing the bill of lading, notwithstanding that the goods or some part thereof may not have been shipped, unless the holder of the bill of lading has actual notice, at the time of receiving it, that the goods had not in fact been laden on board, or unless the bill of lading has a stipulation to the contrary, but the master or other person so signing may exonerate himself in respect of such misrepresentation by showing that it was caused without any default on his part, and wholly by the fault of the shipper or of the holder, or of some person under whom the holder claims."


  • Aman v. Dover & Southbound R. Co. 179 N.C. 310 (1920)
  • Duhaime, Lloyd, Maritime Law - A Glossary
  • Mills & Co. v East and West India Dock Co. (1882) 7 A.C. 596

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