Jurisdiction in product liability cases in Europe

Kainz/Pantherwerke ECJ C-45/13 of 16 January 2014: interpretation of article 5 (3) of Brussel I in product liability cases 

According to article 2 and article 5 (3) of Regulation no. 44/2001 (Brussel 1) in product liability cases the defendant may be sued in the place where he is domiciled as well as in which the event giving rise to liability occurs. It is settled case law that in case the place where the event occurs and the place where that event results in damage are not identical article 5(3) must be understood as being intended to cover both the place where the damage occurred and the place of the event giving rise to it (see also ECJEU C-189 Zuid Chemie [2009]  and C-170/12 Pinckney [2013] ) This means that the defendant may be sued, at the option of the claimant in the court of those places.

Usually it is clear what the place is where the damage occurs. There can however be a discussion about the place of the event giving rise to the damage. Is that the place where the manufacturer is established, the place where the product is put into circulation or the place where the product was acquired.

In the case of Kainz vs Pantherwerke the European Court of Justice was asked to clarify the concept of place of the event giving rise to damage in relation to product liability.

Mr Kainz who lives in Salzburg (Austria ) had an accident in Germany while biking on a bike manufactured by Panterwerke AG in Germany but purchased by a retailer in Austria. Pantherwerke AG has a registered office in Austria. According to Kainz he fell from his bike because the fork end detached itself from the fork wheel. He claimed the Pantherwerke AG was liable as manufacturer in respect to a manufacturing defect. Kainz issued proceedings before the court in Austria,

Pantherwerke AG contested the international jurisdiction of the Austrian Courts. The place of the event giving rise to the damage, in their view was located in Germany. The bicycle was manufactured in Germany and was brought into circulation in that State when it was dispatched from that company’s place of business.

Both in first instance as well as on appeal the courts dismissed the action brought by Kainz on the grounds of lack of international jurisdiction. The Obester Gerichtshof (Supreme Court) considered it necessary to ask the European Court of Justice to clarify the concept of the event giving rise to damage in product liability cases.

The European Court ruled, in line with the Zuid Chemie case,  that this is the place where the event which damaged the product took place. This is in principle the place where the product is manufactured. The courts in that place will also be in best position to rule on the finding that a product is defective.

This means that in cases where a manufacturer faces a claim of liability the place of the event giving rise to damage is the place where the product in question was manufactured. A defendant in a product liability case may thus be sued in the court where the damage took place, the place where the product was manufactured and the place where he is domiciled.

The verdict can be found here

1 comment so far

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