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Krazy German Lawsuits Vol. XVII

the wrteched refuse of their teeming shores...

Once in a very long while I'll get one of those 'CRAZY AMERICAN LAWSUITS!!!!1ONE!!!' emails* from some German. The emails typically contain a mishmash of accurate, semi-truthful, ludicrously distorted, and completely false stories of wacky lawsuits those crazy Americans file. To see which ones you might have fallen for lately, go here.

I usually don't bother to respond, except perhaps to inform the hapless producerist Teuton that he is, as often as not, forwarding corporate propaganda created by the PR departments of scary multinational corporations. But in the spirit of the best defense is a good offense, I'm compiling my own list of CRAZY GERMAN LAWSUITS!!!!1ONE!!! for my readers to trade and collect. And because I actually know (basically) how to research German law**, I can guarantee you every single one of these lawsuits actually happened.

The latest installment comes to me courtesy of Ed Philp, and involves a case (g) decided by the highest German civil court, the Bundesgerichtshof, which sits in Karlsruhe. It involves a couple on a one-week bargain-basement package vacation to Turkey, all-expenses-paid, which cost a measly €369 per person. The travel agency specified in the terms & conditions that it could change the timing of the flight back, which they did, moving it from 4 in the afternoon to 6 in the morning of the same day. The two people on the trip would get picked up from their hotel at 1:30 AM instead of 12 noon. So they lost about 10 hours of their vacation. Mind you, the travel agency had given them warning and arranged transportation -- they weren't being stranded, helpless, among the Ottoman hordes. Plus, the agency paid the couple €42 compensation.

So, all in all, a moderate inconvenience, especially given how cheap the vacation was. But if you think the travelers left it at that, you are underestimating (1) how seriously Germans take their vacations, and (2) how many self-righteous malcontents there are among them who are just waiting to pounce on minor misunderstandings which they can elevate into scorched-earth legal jihads. Don't forget that Germany is one of the most, if not the most, lawsuit-happy societies in the world.

Instead of taking the travel agency's earlier flight, the couple decided to book their own flight back, then file a lawsuit against the travel agency asking for:

Reinbursement of the entire cost of the trip minus 70 € for accommodation provided, reimbursement of 504.52 € for transport back to Germany, and compensation for wasted vacation time (nutzlos aufgewendete Urlaubszeit) in the amount of 480.80 € for the first plaintiff and 2,193,10 € for her companion (my italics).

So 10 hours cut off an ultra-cheap holiday has now turned into a legal battle involving a request for 10 times the per-person cost of the entire trip. And when I say battle, I actually mean 'war'. The couple lost at the first phase, the local court in Düsseldorf. Doubtless sighing inwardly in exasperation and wondering what they had done in a previous life to deserve this job, the court awarded the coupld €25 off the price of the vacation and dismissed all the other claims. Doubtless outraged at this disgusting miscarriage of justice, the couple appealed to the higher regional court, the Landgericht, which also told them to f**k off denied their appeal.

Finally, they landed at Germany's highest civil court, known by its abbreviation BGH. After considering various aspects of German civil law and vacation law (yes, there's a special German law for vacations (g)), the nation's highest court decided that the couple may have actually had a claim for some of the extra damages, if they can prove that their resort to self-help was appropriate, and that they gave the travel agency a chance to correct the problem. The court remanded the case to the lower court to look into these questions.

Pause for a moment, if you will, and imagine the amount of resources the legal system devoted to this one case: hundreds of pages of briefing, the time and attention of probably something like 15 full-time judges -- including the highest civil court in the land -- and their attendant clerks and support staff, and the preparation and publication of at least three legal opinions -- so far. All because one couple lost 10 hours from a hideous tabloid-insert package vacation in some grotty Turkish beach hotel.

Now that's what I call a KRAZY LEGAL SYSTEM!!1!!1ONE!!***

* Not to be confused with 'CRAZY AMERICAN LAWS!!!!1ONE!!!' -- '1. It's illegal to have sex with a camel on Sunday in Potter's Valley, Michigan while wearing pink underwear.'

** DISCLAIMER: Not that I can give, or ever have given, or ever will give, legal advice on German law, on this blog or any other.

*** Actually, all snark aside, it's what I would call a smoothly-functioning legal system which, despite its occasional excesses, offers ordinary citizens timely and meaningful legal redress. This is a civilizational achievement that both America and Germany share, and which about 80% of the world's population would desperately yearn to have in their own countries. Now back to the snark.


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This is what I like about this blog:
It's not just a random rant. It's a rant with footnotes!

Actually, I'm not so much surprised by the story, at least not about the couple filing lawsuits. However, I'm a bit astonished about their apparent prospects.
From my sense of justice (or gut feeling), I would have thought the maximum they could hope for either reimbursement of their flight back, or a proportional compensation for the lost time in Turkey. The latter approach leads me close to the 25 Euros, which might mean I'm not completely alone with these ideas.

But there's another aspect to it:
If a big company with little direct client contact as a tour operator doesn't doesn't get away with their obscure contractual provisions, that might even be a good thing.


You guys seemed to enjoy the waters. Since its summer its such a good idea to spend some time in beaches and pools.


As doppelfish noted, the "Bundesurlaubgsgesetz" (Federal vacation law) regulates paid leave for workers and has NOTHING to do with this case. The correct provisions can be found in §§ 651a ff. BGB (, which are based on EU regulations. And mind you, travel operators are being deterred from playing with their customers. The agency contracted with the plaintiffs who booked the journey with the reasonable expectation of a good night's sleep - which they didn't get. Now, the reaction might have been a bit over the top, but still - do you want your partner to change his side of a contractual obligation just like that?


In all fairness, the BUrlG is only concerned with german workers geting a minimum of paid leave every year. What they do in their vacation is entierely up to them. And while there were a couple of incidents in which the vacation didn't quite live up to the colorful promises made in the catalogue, not every lawsuit is successful, as evidenced by the famous Gürtel-Urteil.


The qualifier that needs to be attached to 'Germans find America's large jury verdicts puzzling' is 'Germans find the kinds of US jury verdicts which are widely reported in the German press to be puzzling.' In my experience, Germans know nothing about the practical, day-to-day workings of the American civil justice system; their perceptions are driven exclusively by the reports on extreme cases that crop up every few months in the German media.

The smarter German media consumers tend to take these reports with a grain of salt, recognizing that they're only getting the man-bites-dog stories. But many others are taken in...


"Pause for a moment, if you will, and imagine the amount of resources the legal system devoted to this one case: hundreds of [...] All because one couple lost 10 hours from a hideous tabloid-insert package vacation in some grotty Turkish beach hotel."

And you're a law professor.

It is one thing to argue - and I tend to agree with you here, from your description of the case - that this is one ludicrous and disproportionate lawsuit and a f***ing waste of lifetime from the plaintiffs' POV. It is an altogether different story, however, to assess whether the courts should deal with a particular case, as pathetic as the sums and particular interests involved may be.

If the legal issues involved in the case were easy, it wouldn't have gone to the Supreme Court. It seems likely that the case involved very important technical details or questions of interpretation. Thus the BGH judgement was possibly needed to set a precedent, in order to settle a tricky issue, thereby avoiding loads of claims for the future? Isn't that one of the very purposes of the courts, to set the law? If so then I find it strange to argue that this is a waste of public resources.

For the rest, I tend to agree with "Streithammel" here that the difference between the "Krazy US law system" and the "Krazy German law sysytem" claims is that for the US, people tend to find crazy - rightly or wrongly - the amounts of money that are awarded in civil proceedings there, while for Germany, people consider crazy (and I often agree) what Germans go to court for. The latter does not exactly have to do with the peculiarities of the legal system, but rather with those of the German people.


There was a case a couple of years ago (saw it myself in Tagesschau - a serious German news show) where some guy wanted the paint of his golden Mercedes convertible to be refreshed. When the price the garage told him was to expensive for his liking he asked them wether they could do it black (and here you need to now German to understand the joke!). The garage people agreed and gave him a lower price.
When the guy got his car back painted black he refused to pay the bill. The garage had to take him to court to get the money! Suprisingly the guy lost the case.

I think it is like Streithammel said: Here it is more about stupid people than about crazy court decisions.


PS: Explanation of the joke comes tomorrow. But maybe some non-native German speaker knows the answer?


Do you know if the complainers were teachers or jurists?

If you should ever try to rent a flat in Germany: Tell the landlord plausible that you are neither a jurist nor a teacher if you are interested in the flat.
I think, the discrimination of landlords toward teachers and jurists is stronger than toward turks or other unpopular foreigners because they are famous to sue for every littke bit. The worst is a couple of a teacher and a jurist.


Sorry, but when I first read "lawsuit" and "germans on turkish package vacation" I thought you are dealing with the ones complaining about too many handicapped people around, preventing the litigators from enjoying their holiday..?


You're missing the point. The American legal system is ridiculed because courts make insane decisions, not because individuals file stupid lawsuits.


At the close of the '90s, a German couple, who had booked a package tour of the USA, returned dissatisfied and sued the tour organizer, giving as reason that there were "too many Indians" on a Native American reservation they had visited. (Sorry, I have no source except my memory and this is long ago; court might have been the Amtsgericht in Bonn).

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