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Sec. 229.38 - Liability.


(a) Standard of care; liability; measure of damages. A bank shall exercise ordinary care and act in good faith in complying with the requirements of this subpart. A bank that fails to exercise ordinary care or act in good faith under this subpart may be liable to the depositary bank, the depositary bank's customer, the owner of a check, or another party to the check. The measure of damages for failure to exercise ordinary care is the amount of the loss incurred, up to the amount of the check, reduced by the amount of the loss that party would have incurred even if the bank had exercised ordinary care. A bank that fails to act in good faith under this subpart may be liable for other damages, if any, suffered by the party as a proximate consequence. Subject to a bank's duty to exercise ordinary care or act in good faith in choosing the means of return or notice of nonpayment, the bank is not liable for the insolvency, neglect, misconduct, mistake, or default of another bank or person, or for loss or destruction of a check or notice of nonpayment in transit or in the possession of others. This section does not affect a paying bank's liability to its customer under the U.C.C. or other law.

Official Interpretation

XXIV. Section 229.38 Liability

A. 229.38(a) Standard of Care; Liability; Measure of Damages

1. The standard of care established by this section applies to any bank covered by the requirements of subpart C of the regulation. Thus, the standard of care applies to a paying bank under §§229.31, to a returning bank under §229.32, to a depositary bank under §§229.33, to a bank erroneously receiving a returned check or written notice of nonpayment as depositary bank under §229.33(f), and to a bank indorsing a check under §229.35. The standard of care is similar to the standard imposed by UCC 1-203 and 4-103(a) and includes a duty to act in good faith, as defined in §229.2(nn) of this regulation.

2. A bank not meeting this standard of care is liable to the depositary bank, the depositary bank's customer, the owner of the check, or another party to the check. The depositary bank's customer is usually a depositor of a check in the depositary bank (but see §229.35(d)). The measure of damages provided in this section (loss incurred up to amount of check, less amount of loss party would have incurred even if bank had exercised ordinary care) is based on UCC 4-103(e) (amount of the item reduced by an amount that could not have been realized by the exercise of ordinary care), as limited by 4-202(c) (bank is liable only for its own negligence and not for actions of subsequent banks in chain of collection). This subpart does not absolve a collecting bank of liability to prior collecting banks under UCC 4-201.

3. Under this measure of damages, a depositary bank or other person must show that the damage incurred results from the negligence proved. For example, the depositary bank may not simply claim that its customer will not accept a charge-back of a returned check, but must prove that it could not charge back when it received the returned check and could have charged back if no negligence had occurred, and must first attempt to collect from its customer. (See Marcoux v. Van Wyk, 572 F.2d 651 (8th Cir. 1978); Appliance Buyers Credit Corp. v. Prospect Nat'l Bank, 708 F.2d 290 (7th Cir. 1983)). Generally, a paying or returning bank's liability would not be reduced because the depositary bank did not place a hold on its customer's deposit before it learned of nonpayment of the check.

4. This paragraph also states that it does not affect a paying bank's liability to its customer. Under UCC 4-402, for example, a paying bank is liable to its customer for wrongful dishonor, which is different from failure to exercise ordinary care and has a different measure of damages.

(b) Paying bank’s failure to make timely return. If a paying bank fails both to comply with its expeditious return requirements under § 229.31(b) and with the deadline for return under the UCC, Regulation J (12 CFR part 210), or the extension of deadline under § 229.31(g) in connection with a single nonpayment of a check, the paying bank shall be liable under either § 229.31(b) or such other provision, but not both.

Official Interpretation

B. 229.38(b) Paying Bank's Failure To Make Timely Return

1. Section 229.31(b) imposes requirements on the paying bank for expeditious return of a check and leaves in place the UCC deadlines (as they may be modified by §229.31(g)), which may allow return at a different time. This paragraph clarifies that the paying bank could be liable for failure to meet either standard, but not for failure to meet both. The regulation intends to preserve the paying bank's accountability for missing its midnight or other deadline under the UCC (e.g., sections 4-215 and 4-302), provisions that are not incorporated in this regulation, but may be useful in establishing the time of final payment by the paying bank.

(c) Comparative negligence. If a person, including a bank, fails to exercise ordinary care or act in good faith under this subpart in indorsing a check (§ 229.35), accepting a returned check or notice of nonpayment (§ 229.33(b), (c), and (d)), or otherwise, the damages incurred by that person under § 229.38(a) shall be diminished in proportion to the amount of negligence or bad faith attributable to that person.

Official Interpretation

C. 229.38(c) Comparative Negligence

1. This paragraph establishes a “pure” comparative negligence standard for liability under subpart C of this regulation. This comparative negligence rule may have particular application where a paying bank or returning bank delays in returning a check because of difficulty in identifying the depositary bank, where the depositary bank has failed to exercise ordinary care in applying its indorsement.

(d) Responsibility for certain aspects of checks. (1) A paying bank, or in the case of a check payable through the paying bank and payable by another bank, the bank by which the check is payable, is responsible for damages under paragraph (a) of this section to the extent that the condition of the check when issued by it or its customer adversely affects the ability of a bank to indorse the check legibly in accordance with § 229.35. A depositary bank is responsible for damages under paragraph (a) of this section to the extent that the condition of the back of a check arising after the issuance of the check and prior to acceptance of the check by it adversely affects the ability of a bank to indorse the check legibly in accordance with § 229.35. A reconverting bank is responsible for damages under paragraph (a) of this section to the extent that the condition of the back of a substitute check transferred, presented, or returned by it—

(i) Adversely affects the ability of a subsequent bank to indorse the check legibly in accordance with § 229.35; or

(ii) Causes an indorsement that previously was applied in accordance with § 229.35 to become illegible.

(2) Responsibility under this paragraph (d) shall be treated as negligence of the paying bank, depositary bank, or reconverting bank for purposes of paragraph (c) of this section.

Official Interpretation

D. 229.38(d) Responsibility for Certain Aspects of Checks

1. ANS X9.100-140 provides that an image of an original check must be reduced in size when placed on the first substitute check associated with that original check. (The image thereafter would be constant in size on any subsequent substitute check that might be created.) Because of this size reduction, the location of an indorsement, particularly a depositary bank indorsement, applied to an original paper check likely will change when the first reconverting bank creates a substitute check that contains that indorsement within the image of the original paper check. If the indorsement was applied to the original paper check in accordance with ANS X9.100-111's location requirements for indorsements applied to existing paper checks, and if the size reduction of the image causes the placement of the indorsement to no longer be consistent with ANS X9.100-111's requirements, then the reconverting bank bears the liability for any loss that results from the shift in the placement of the indorsement. Such a loss could result either because the original indorsement applied in accordance with ANS X9.100-111 is rendered illegible by a subsequent indorsement that a reconverting bank later applies to the substitute check in accordance with ANS X9.100-140, or because a subsequent bank receiving a substitute check cannot apply its indorsement to the substitute check legibly in accordance with ANS X9.100-111 as a result of the shift in the previous indorsement.

2. Responsibility under paragraph (d)(1) is treated as negligence for comparative negligence purposes, and the contribution to damages under paragraph (d)(1) is treated in the same way as the degree of negligence under paragraph (c) of this section.

(e) Timeliness of action. If a bank is delayed in acting beyond the time limits set forth in this subpart because of interruption of communication or computer facilities, suspension of payments by a bank, war, emergency conditions, failure of equipment, or other circumstances beyond its control, its time for acting is extended for the time necessary to complete the action, if it exercises such diligence as the circumstances require.

(f) Exclusion. Section 229.21 of this part and section 611 (a), (b), and (c) of the EFT Act (12 U.S.C. 4010 (a), (b), and (c)) do not apply to this subpart.

(g) Jurisdiction. Any action under this subpart may be brought in any United States district court, or in any other court of competent jurisdiction, and shall be brought within one year after the date of the occurrence of the violation involved.

(h) Reliance on Board rulings. No provision of this subpart imposing any liability shall apply to any act done or omitted in good faith in conformity with any rule, regulation, or interpretation thereof by the Board, regardless of whether the rule, regulation, or interpretation is amended, rescinded, or determined by judicial or other authority to be invalid for any reason after the act or omission has occurred.

(i) Presumption of Alteration. (1) Presumption. Subject to paragraphs (i)(2)-(3) of this section and in the absence of a federal statute or regulation to the contrary, the presumption in this paragraph applies with respect to any dispute between banks arising under federal or state law as to whether a substitute check or electronic check transferred between those banks contains an alteration or is derived from an original check that was issued with an unauthorized signature of the drawer. When such a dispute arises, there is a rebuttable presumption that the substitute check or electronic check contains an alteration.

(2) Rebuttal of presumption. The presumption of alteration may be overcome by proving by a preponderance of evidence that either the substitute check or electronic check does not contain an alteration, or that the substitute check or electronic check is derived from an original check that was issued with an unauthorized signature of the drawer.

(3) Effect of producing original check. If the original check is made available for examination by all banks involved in the dispute, the presumption in paragraph (i)(1) of this section shall no longer apply.

Official Interpretation

I. 229.38(i) Presumption of Alteration

1. This paragraph applies to disputes between banks where one bank has sent an electronic check or a substitute check for collection to the other bank. The presumption of alteration does not apply to a dispute between banks where one bank sent the original check to the other bank, even if that check is subsequently truncated and destroyed. The presumption of alteration applies with respect to claims that the original check or to the electronic check or substitute check was altered or contained an unauthorized signature.

2. The presumption of alteration applies when the original check is unavailable for review by the banks in context of the dispute. If the original check is produced, through discovery or other means, and is made available for examination by all the parties, the presumption no longer applies.

3. This paragraph does not alter the transfer and presentment warranties under the UCC that allocate liability among the parties to a check transaction with respect to an item that has been altered or that was issued with an unauthorized signature of the drawer. The UCC or other applicable check law continues to apply with respect to other rights, duties, and obligations related to altered or unauthorized checks. In addition, the presumption does not apply if it is contrary to another Federal statute or regulation, such as the U.S. Treasury's rules regarding U.S. Treasury checks. The presumption of alteration may be varied by agreement to the extent permitted under §229.37.

4. As stated in §229.2, terms that are not defined in that section have the meanings set forth in the Uniform Commercial Code. “Alteration” is defined in UCC 3-407 and includes both (i) an unauthorized change in a check that purports to modify in any respect the obligation of a party, and (ii) an unauthorized addition of words or numbers or other change to an incomplete check relating to the obligation of a party. Alterations could include, for example, an unauthorized change to a payee name or a change to the date on a post-dated check that purports to make the check currently payable. “Unauthorized signature” is defined in UCC 1-201 and further discussed in UCC 3-403. An unauthorized signature could include a forgery as well as a signature made without actual or apparent authority.

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