Class action lawsuits are, for the most part, an American thing. But, like fast food and bad cars, they’re being increasingly exported abroad, with European and Asian countries alike adopting new systems to allow consumers to collectively sue large companies and other entities. Earlier this year, the first successful class action under a new Italian law was upheld.
For the most part, this new branch of consumer law is finding its feet.
Following a long debate, the 2007 Italian budget introduced a new article, Article 140, to the Italian Consumer Code, allowing “collective actions” to obtain restitution or damages when multiple consumer members had been harmed. This in turn became “class actions” after a 2009 review which changed the law’s focus from consumer associations to single users themselves, who could be represented as members of a class. The changes became law on January 1, 2010, retrospectively applying to any cases where damages occurred after August 16, 2009.
And now, as of February 2013, the first Italian class action has been upheld, marking a new era in the country’s consumer laws.
Class action lawsuits remain relatively uncommon in Italy, never having been possible; instead, consumers with similar complaints and damages had to file independently and face the complications of conflicting judgments and a busy justice system. Few class actions have been filed since the law’s introduction in 2010, and of those that have been, most have been unsuccessful, failing either to be admissible or to have merit.
The Court of Naples’ Judgment 2195, February 18 2013 changed that.
A case brought by a group of tourists against a package-deal tour operator was upheld after it was claimed that the agreed hotel had not been as luxurious as the plaintiffs had been led to believe, and that the amenities and state of the beaches nearby were also different to those sold in the package. Interestingly, however, the class action was upheld for the lead plaintiffs and part of the group, but other class members’ claims were rejected as their rights and damages were not “identical”. In the current Italian interrelation of the law, membership of a successful class is limited to those with very specific circumstances – a fact which somewhat declaws the class action law and renders it much weaker than its U.S. counterpart. This is being addressed, however, by a 2012 reform which introduced the concept of homogeneous rights for members of a class.
Class action lawsuits in Italy will, of course, never be just carbon copies of the U.S. inspiration. For one thing, Italian law does not recognize punitive damages, offering instead only compensation for actual damages and removing a common incentive in the U.S. for individuals to join a class action. For the most part, this new branch of consumer law is finding its feet, and more successful cases being brought to trial should held the system to work more effectively and result, in the end, in consumer rights being upheld.