CJEU: Damages claims against car manufacturers even in case of negligent misconduct

5. 6. 2023

Decision of the Court of Justice of the EU dated 21.03.2023, opened the door to successful claims for damages by customers in the event of the existence of illegal deactivation device to reduce the effectiveness of exhaust gas recirculation (EGR) in diesel cars. According to the CJEU, mere negligence is sufficient to give rise to liability for damages.

As is already known, certain automobile companies used failure devices in the production of cars with diesel engines, which distorted, modified and thus actually circumvented the emission limits set by the law and the implementing regulations. In particular, these are devices that either automatically switch to "clean" mode during emissions testing and shut down during normal driving, outside of emissions testing, and do not reduce emissions in any way. The other type of device, in contrast to the first, automatically switches off not on the basis of being detected in test mode, but only depending on the outside temperature and therefore independently from human will.

According to consistent case law, the Federal Court of Justice in Germany considers the use of the devices mentioned first to be deliberate immoral damage to the purchaser by the manufacturer, and therefore liability for damages on the part of the manufacturer is also possible.

In contrast, the latter device and its use is not, in the opinion of the Federal Court of Justice in Germany, an intentional immoral detriment to the purchaser. General liability for damages could arise through negligent conduct as well, but only if such equipment constitutes a violation of a protective law, including EU law, which prohibits such malfunctioning equipment. However, these protective laws must constitute protection of third parties, in particular the protection of the economic rights of individual purchasers. However, the Federal Court of Justice in Germany has been of the opinion that the protection laws in question do not protect the rights of third parties and has excluded liability for damages in this case.

It is the CJEU's decision that established that EU law in this case protects not only general legal interests, but also the specific interests of individual customers. In a sense, EU law creates a direct relationship between the buyer and the producer. This means that the protection rules of the EU law protect not only the environment but third parties, including their individual economic rights as well, and that manufacturers are liable, even negligently, for the existence of a failure device in a car. The CJEU decision in question can therefore be described as a landmark in the field of compensation, not only in the automobile industry.

The above-mentioned decision of the CJEU may also have an impact on the compensation of damages in the Czech Republic. It is necessary to take into account not only the concept of liability for damages in Czech law, but also the CJEU's monopoly on the binding interpretation of European law and how it will be reflected in the decision-making practice of the courts in the Czech Republic. According to Czech law, a wrongdoer is obliged to compensate for damages if he or she has breached a statutory duty through his or her culpable conduct and has thus interfered with the right of the injured party protected by the breached statutory provision. As regards the breach of a statutory obligation, EU law is part of the Czech legal order and a breach of a statutory obligation may also be a breach of an obligation under EU law. In the case of claims for damages against car producers in the Czech Republic, the Czech courts will thus take into account the above-mentioned decision of the ECJ, and the injured parties would not have to prove an intentional, but only a negligent breach of the obligations set out in European law. In summary, the enforceability of claims against car manufacturers has increased with this ECJ decision including the Czech Republic.


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