A medical practice that does not provide overnight accommodation for patients is not a Klinik and is not allowed to style itself as such. That was the verdict of the Landgericht (LG) Hamburg in a ruling from November 15, 2019 (Az. 315 O 472/18).
The courts in Germany have had to wrestle with the German term “Klinik” (clinic/hospital/medical center) on many occasions. However, the BGH has since clarified in a ruling from October 17, 2018 that consumers expect from the term “Klinik” the possibility of being admitted as a temporary inpatient overnight. We at the commercial law firm MTR Rechtsanwälte note that for this reason, advertising featuring this term is deemed to be misleading if there is in fact no such possibility (Az.: I ZR 58/18).
In a similar case, the LG Hamburg has now ruled that a group practice must not refer to itself as a “Stimmklinik” (voice clinic). The lawsuit was brought by a competition association that considered the designation “Klinik” misleading, since the practice makes no provision for overnight stays for patients.
The practice features ENT and phoniatrics specialists. It has also collaborated with speech therapists, singing instructors, and various Kliniks. The doctors argued that the practice offered an outstanding combination of medical and nonmedical services and was therefore not your ordinary specialist practice. They made the case that “voice clinic” has become an established term internationally for facilities of this kind and contended that patients’ understanding of the term “Klinik” has changed.
The LG Hamburg did not accept this line of reasoning, ruling that consumers associate the term with a hospital, or at least a hospital unit that offers patients inpatient care, including the possibility of staying overnight. It held that “voice clinic” generally refers to a specific unit of a hospital.
Notwithstanding the possibility of patients being admitted due to cooperation agreements with hospitals, the court went on to state that this did not make the practice a Klinik. The LG Hamburg concluded that it was an interdisciplinary group practice that also offered nonmedical services.
A fine line needs to be trodden when it comes to advertising, it being easy to incur sanctions such as formal warmings, injunction suits, or claims for damages. Lawyers with experience in the field of antitrust and competition law can offer advice and assist in fending off or enforcing claims arising from violations of antitrust or competition law.
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