ECJ declares member state’s domestic legislation compatible with EU law in antitrust case

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Claims for damages in response to cross-border antitrust infringements

EU law does not preclude the application of a national rule in cases concerned with anticompetitive practices. That was the verdict of the European Court of Justice (ECJ) in a ruling from February 16, 2023 (case ref.: C-312/21).

Where claims for damages aimed at addressing antitrust infringements transcend national borders, it becomes necessary to assess whether national law is applicable or whether it contradicts EU regulations. Commercial law firm MTR Legal Rechtsanwälte advises on international law.

Action for damages due to antitrust infringement

The plaintiffs in the case in question, two Spanish companies, filed a claim for damages against a German company on account of an infringement of competition law, arguing that they had suffered harm as a result and submitted an expert opinion in support of this claim.

The relevant Spanish court had doubts as to whether Spanish procedural law was compatible with EU law. Under Spanish law, each party must bear their own costs plus half of the common costs. In order to determine whether this rule complied with EU law, the court referred the matter to the ECJ for a preliminary ruling.

Spanish rules not in conflict with EU law

The ECJ ruled that EU law as it relates to actions for damages within the meaning of Directive 2014/104 does not preclude a provision of national civil procedural law stipulating that each party must pay for their costs as well as the common costs, provided there is no wrongful conduct. The court clarified that this kind of national rule renders it neither practically impossible nor excessively difficult to exercise the right to obtain full compensation for the harm suffered as a result of an infringement of competition law.

Noncontractual corporate liability

In justifying its decision, the ECJ pointed out that, unlike in the case of lawsuits brought by consumers, this case was concerned with a company’s noncontractual liability. It was noted that the balance of power between the parties here could be corrected through national measures transposing Directive 2014/104. That is also why it is reasonable to expect a partially unsuccessful party to pay for their own costs, or at least a portion thereof, as well as for part of the common costs, provided that the origin of these costs can be attributed to them, e.g., because they made excessive claims or due to the manner in which they conducted the litigation.

Prerequisites for estimating damages

As far as national courts estimating the harm suffered is concerned, the ECJ went on to state that an estimate of this kind presupposes that the existence of said harm has been established. Moreover, it must be practically impossible or excessively difficult to precisely quantify the harm. The court also noted, however, that it is not necessary to take into account the asymmetry of information here, as difficulties in determining the exact harm suffered are possible even if both parties have the same level of information.

The proceedings arose due to claims for damages in response to an established infringement of competition law.

Lawyers specializing in international law

Where claims for damages transcend national borders, it is a good idea to consult an attorney who has experience in dealing with international law.

MTR Legal Rechtsanwälte advises on international law. Get in contact with us today!

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