Class Action Lawsuits in Europe
   
 
   
The Austrian Code of Civil Procedure (Zivilprozessordnung – ZPO) does not provide for a special proceeding for complex class action litigation. However, Austrian consumer organizations (Verein für Konsumenteninformation/VKI and the Federal Chamber of Labour/Bundesarbeitskammer) have, in recent years, brought claims on behalf of hundreds or even thousands of consumers. This technique, soon labelled as "class action Austrian style", allows for a significant reduction of overall costs. The Austrian Supreme Court, in a recent judgment, has confirmed the legal admissibility of these lawsuits under the condition that all claims are essentially based on the same grounds.

The Austrian Parliament has unanimously requested the Austrian Federal Minister for Justice to examine the possibility of new legislation providing for a cost-effective and appropriate way to deal with mass claims. Together with the Austrian Ministry for Social Security, Generations and Consumer Protection, the Justice Ministry opened the discussion with a conference held in Vienna in June, 2005. With the aid of a group of experts from many fields, the Justice Ministry began drafting the new law in September, 2005. With the individual positions varying greatly, the process is still pending.

Under French law, an association can represent the collective interests of consumers; however, each claimant must be individually named in the lawsuit. On January 4, 2005, President Chirac urged changes that would provide greater consumer protection. A draft bill was proposed in April 2006. Under the proposals the court will be able to decide whether to allow an action brought by an association on behalf of consumers (which must comprise at least two individuals) for goods purchased under a standard contract. After such an action is brought, the association would be entitled to identify additional consumers for a one-month period. The court would determine the damages that must be awarded to the consumers who have opted-in to the proceedings, with damages limited to 2000 Euros; contingent fees for attorneys would be barred.[1] The president of the French Supreme Court recently declared that "class actions are inescapable." [2] Nevertheless, the bill was withdrawn in January 2007 at the request of Minister of Health Xavier Bertrand.

On November 1, 2005, Germany enacted the "Act on Model Case Proceedings in Disputes under Capital Markets Law (Capital Markets Model Case Act)" allowing sample proceedings to be brought before the courts in litigation arising from mass capital markets transactions. It does not apply to any other civil law proceeding. It is not like class actions in the United States -- it only applies to parties who have already filed suit and does not allow a claim to be brought in the name of an unknown group of claimants. The effects of the new law will be monitored over the next five years. It contains a ‘sunset clause’, and it will automatically cease to have effect on November 1, 2010, unless the legislature decides to prolong the law, or extend it to other mass civil case proceedings. "Capital Markets Model Case Act" Der Bund Retrieved July 16, 2006.

Italy has no class action legislation. However, consumer associations can file claims on behalf of groups of consumers to obtain judicial orders against corporations that cause injury or damage to consumers. These types of claims are increasing and Italian courts have recently allowed them against banks that continue to apply compound interest on retail clients’ current account overdrafts. The introduction of class actions is on the new government’s agenda. In 2004, the Italian parliament considered the introduction of a type of class action lawsuit, specifically in the area of consumers’ law. To date, no such law has been enacted, however scholars demonstrated that class actions (azioni rappresentative) do not contrast with Italian principles of civil procedure [FAVA P., L’importabilità delle class actions in Italia, in Contratto e Impresa 1/2004 FAVA P., Class actions all’italiana:"Paese che vai, usanza che trovi" (l’esperienza dei principali ordinamenti giuridici stranieri e le proposte A.A.C.C. n. 3838 e n. 3839), in Corr. Giur. 3/2004; FAVA P., Class actions tra efficientismo processuale, aumento di competitività e risparmio di spesa: l’esame di un contenzioso seriale concreto (le S.U. sul rapporto tra indennità di amministrazione e tredicesima), in Corr. Giur. 2006, 535; FAVA P., Indennità di amministrazione e tredicesima: il "no secco" delle Sezioni Unite. Un caso pratico per valutare le potenzialità delle azioni rappresentative (class actions) nel contenzioso seriale italiano, Rass. Avv. Stato 2005] .

Dutch law allows collective actions brought by associations on behalf of injured parties seeking a judicial declaration that the company is liable for the damage it has caused. [5]

Spanish law allows nominated consumer associations to take action to protect the interests of consumers. A number of groups already have the power to bring collective or class actions: certain consumer associations, bodies legally constituted to defend the ‘collective interest’ and groups of injured parties. [6]

Recent changes to Spanish civil procedure rules include the introduction of a quasi-class action right for certain consumer associations to claim damages on behalf of unidentified classes of consumers. The rules require consumer associations to represent an adequate number of affected parties who have suffered the same harm. Also any judgment made by the Spanish court will list the individual beneficiaries or, if that is not possible, conditions that need to be fulfilled for a party to benefit from a judgment.

Swiss law does not provide for any form of class action. When the government proposed a new federal code of civil procedure in 2006, replacing the cantonal codes of civil procedure, it rejected the introduction of class actions, arguing that:

  
                     (It) is alien to European legal thought to allow somebody to exercise rights on the behalf of a large number of people if these do not participate as parties in the action. ... Moreover, the class action is controversial even in its country of origin, the U.S., because it can result in significant procedural problems. ... Finally, the class action can be abused. The sums sued for are usually enormous, so that the respondent can be forced to concede, if they do not want to face sudden overindebtedness and insolvency (so-called legal blackmail).    
  

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