The Risk Manager, Summer 1997

An Oregon law firm recently learned the hard way about a new postal regulation affecting stamped mail weighing more than 16 ounces. The firm placed such a package in the postal collection box in their building, only to have it returned by the post office. The problem wasn't with the postage or how the package was prepared. The mail was rejected because it wasn't handed directly to a window clerk at the post office or a mail carrier. This new "hand delivered" requirement for certain mail is in response to the threat of letter bombs. Postal News Release No. 87 provides this guidance:

The changes, effective August 16 [1996], affect packages mailed to international or domestic addresses deposited in mail collection boxes, such as street mail boxes, lobby and apartment drop boxes/receptacles, even rural customer mailboxes. Customers will have to bring to post offices for entry with retail clerks:

  • Domestic mail bearing stamps and weighing 16 ounces and over, and
  • All international mail or military APO/FPO mail weighing 16 ounces and over and which in some cases may also require a customs declaration form...

Packages returned to senders will have an accompanying explanation advising them in the future to deposit this mail at the post office. Previously applied postage may be used whtn the item is re-mailed at a Post Office.

From a malpractice standpoint, the hazard is obvious: an unknowing practitioner places a deadline-sensitive package in the mail, only to have it returned after the deadline has passed. The solution? Inform staff of the regulation, use a postal scale and follow the hand-delivery rule when it applies. One option is to break your mail up into smaller packages, each weighing less than a pound.

Never wait until the last minute to file or submit anything that is deadline sensitive. And don't get lulled into thinking that messenger services are the fail-safe answer. Given Murphy's Law and a short deadline something can and will go wrong.

In light of this rule:

  • All stamped mail weighing 16 ounces or more must be brought in person to a post office for processing by a clerk. The "weigh-in" may be done by your local carrier, who will likely guesstimate the weight. If your stamped package is anywhere close to 16 ounces - bring it in to the post office and don't risk the "return to sender."
  • All metered or stamped international or military APO/FPO mail weighing 16 ounces or more must be brought in person to a post office for processing by a clerk.
  • Metered domestic mail weighing 16 ounces or more may be placed in a collection box, drop box, or similar receptacle. Delivery to the post office for processing by a retail clerk is not necessary at this time. (Difference in treatment from stamped mail is because metered mail is traceable.)
  • Express mail is not affected by these mailing requirements.
  • If you have any questions about the "hand delivery" regulation call the US Postal Service at 1-800-ASK-USPS. Be alert for additional Postal Service security requirements for depositing weighty mail.

is just the last in a series of Supreme Court decisions that teach the Kentucky Bar that less than strict adherence to professional responsibility standards will not be condoned. The public will be protected and clients get the benefit of any doubt.