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!!***
** 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.