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Mass Litigation in Times of Corona and Developments in the Netherlands

By Jos Hoevenaars and Xandra Kramer, Erasmus University Rotterdam (postdoc and PI ERC consolidator project Building EU Civil Justice, Erasmus University Rotterdam)


As is illustrated in a series of blog posts on this website, the current pandemic also has an impact on the administration of justice and on international litigation. As regards collective redress, Matthias Weller reported on the mass litigation against the Austrian Federal State of Tyrol and local tourist businesses. The Austrian Consumer Protection Association (Österreichischer Verbraucherschutzverein, VSV) has been inviting tourists that have been in the ski areas in Tyrol – which turned into Corona infection hotspots – in the period from 5 March 2020 and shortly afterwards discovered that they were infected with the virus, to enrol for claims for damages against the Tyrolean authorities and the Republic of Austria. Hundreds of coronavirus cases in Iceland, the UK, Germany, Ireland, Norway, Denmark and the Netherlands can be traced back to that area. Currently over 4,000 (including nearly 400 Dutch nationals) have joined the action by the VSV.

It may be expected that other cases will follow as the global impact of the pandemic is overwhelming, both in terms of health and economic effects, and it seems that early warnings have been ignored. Like for instance the Volkswagen emission case, these events with global impact are those in which collective redress mechanisms – apart perhaps from piggybacking in pending criminal procedures – are the most suitable vehicles. This blog will address mass litigation resulting from the corona crisis and use the opportunity to bring a new Dutch act on collective action to the attention.


Cross-border Corona mass litigation against the Austrian Federal State of Tyrol and local tourist businesses?

While the Corona Crisis is still alarmingly growing globally, first movers are apparently preparing for mass litigation of ski tourists from all over Europe and beyond against the Austrian Federal State of Tyrol and local businesses. The Austrian Consumer Protection Association (Österreichischer Verbraucherschutzverein, VSV, is inviting tourists damaged from infections with the Corona virus after passing their ski holidays in Tyrol, in particular in and around the Corona super-hotspot of Ischgl, to enrol for collective redress against Tyrol, its Governor, local authorities as well as against private operators of ski lifts, hotels, bars etc., see

In Austria, no real “class action” is available. Rather, the individual claimants need to assign their claims to a lead claimant, often a special purpose vehicle (in this case the Association) which then institutes joint proceedings for all the claims. For foreign claimants who consider assigning their claims to the Association, the Rome I Regulation will be of relevance.


Shell litigation in the Dutch courts – milestones for private international law and the fight against climate change

by Xandra Kramer (Erasmus University Rotterdam/Utrecht Univeristy) and Ekaterina Pannebakker (Leiden University), editors

  1. Introduction

As was briefly announced earlier on this blog, on 29 January 2021, the Dutch Court of Appeal in The Hague gave a ruling in a long-standing litigation launched by four Nigerian farmers and the Dutch Milieudefensie. The Hague Court held Shell Nigeria liable for pollution caused by oil spills that took place in 2004-2007; the UK-Dutch parent company is ordered to install equipment to prevent damage in the future. Though decided almost four months ago, the case merits discussion of several private international law aspects that will perhaps become one of the milestones in the broader context of liability of parent companies for the actions of their foreign-based subsidiaries.

Climate change and related human rights litigation is undoubtedly of increasing importance in private international law. This is also on the radar of the European institutions as evidenced among others  by the ongoing review of the Rome II Regulation (point 6). Today, 26 May 2021, another milestone was reached, both for for private international law but for the fight against global climate change, with the historical judgment (English version, Dutch version) by the Hague District Court ordering Shell to reduce Co2 emissions (point 7). This latter case is discussed more at length in today’s blogpost by Matthias Weller.

  1. Oil spill in Nigeria and litigation in The Hague courts

The VW NOx Emissions Group Litigation, [2019] EWHC 783(QB), and (some aspects of) CoL

Yesterday, the High Court of London decided two preliminary issues in a large group action, certified as a Group Litigation Order (sub no. 105), brought by about 91,000 owners or lessees of VW, Audi, Skoda and SEAT cars. The claim is brought, against the manufacturers of the affected vehicles (VW, Audi, Skoda, and SEAT), against the relevant VW financial services arm and against a variety of authorised UK based VW dealers. Article 8 no. 1 of the Brussels Ibis Regulation will have been of relevance to the foreign ones amongst the defendants. No express explanations are offered how claimants eligible for the UK group litigation are determined – presumably it depends on where the car was bought.

The precise personal/territorial scope of the respective mass litigations would have been interesting, since the proceedings in the UK are just some of many by disaffected VW owners around the world, and the outcomes for the claimants seem to differ quite substantially. As early as in 2015, a class-action similar to the UK one was commenced against VW in the Federal Court of Australia, on behalf of around 100,000 VW owners, which was settled for up to AusD 87 million. The total amount may go up to AusD 127 million, depending on the ultimate number of claimants. On 1 April 2020, the Federal Court of Australia approved the settlement of the Australian class actions. The settlement was approved on the basis of a Settlement Scheme developed by the solicitors for the applicants and made public here, that sets out the process by which claims can be registered, assessed and paid, and the Deed of Release and Settlement that was agreed between the parties, made publicly available by those solicitors here. In Germany, proceedings under the (quite restrictive) collective redress mechanism of the “Musterfeststellungsklagewere settled recently as well, in this case for up to € 830 Million in total in relation to around 400.000 claimants. These claimants still need to accept individually the offered sums until 20 April 2020 after receiving offers from VW based on the remaining value of their cars these days. Individual litigations outside the Musterfeststellungsklage about the influence of the amount of kilometres that the respective car has already run (amongst other issues) are reaching the German Federal Court of Justice these days (the hearings will take place on 5 May 2020). In addition, the Court of Justice of the European Union is dealing with other aspects of the VW case, see on CoL here.


Summer School on Transnational Tort Litigation

Written by Michele Angelo Lupoi, Civil Procedural Law and European Judicial Cooperation, University of Bologna

The Department of Juridical Sciences of the University of Bologna, Ravenna Campus, has organized a Summer School on Transnational Tort Litigation: Jurisdiction and Remedies, to be held in Ravenna, on July 15-19, 2019.

The Summer School deals with transnational jurisdiction, private international law and remedies available in tort cross-border litigation, with both a theoretical and a practical approach. The Faculty includes experts from US and EU in order to provide a comparative perspective to the participants.


New Article on Current Developments in Forum access: European Perspectives on Human Rights Litigation

Prof. Dr. Dr. h.c. Burkhard Hess and Ms. Martina Mantovani (Max Planck Institute Luxembourg for International, European and Regulatory Procedural Law) recently posted a new paper in the MPILux Research Paper Series, titled Current Developments in Forum Access: Comments on Jurisdiction and Forum Non Conveniens – European Perspectives on Human Rights Litigation.

The paper will appear in F. Ferrari & D. Fernandez Arroyo (eds.), The Continuing Relevance of Private International Law and Its Challenges (Elgar, 2019).

Here is an overview provided by the authors.

“The paper analyses the legal framework governing the exercise of civil jurisdiction over claims brought before European courts by victims of mass torts committed outside the jurisdiction of European States.


Summer School on Transnational Commercial Agreements, Litigation, and Arbitration in Vicenza, Italy

Pitt Law’s CILE will once more be co-sponsoring the Summer School in Transnational Commercial Agreements, Litigation, and Arbitration in Vicenza, Italy, beginning June 4 and ending June 8, 2018.

All classes will be in English, and as in prior years we expect to have the School approved for up to 24 hours of Pennsylvania Continuing Legal Education credit (22 substantive and 2 ethics). The instructors include Isabella Bdoian (Whirpool Corp.- EMEA), Massimo Benedettelli (Univ. of Bari), Ronald A. Brand (Univ. of Pittsburgh), Serena Corongiu (Lawyer, Representative, AIGA and AIJA), Francesco Cortesi (Judge, Italian Supreme Court), Charles De Monaco (Fox Rothschild, Italy-America Chamber of Commerce), Aldo Frignani (Univ. of Turin), Chiara Giovannucci Orlandi (Univ. of Bologna), Paul Herrup (Department of Justice, USA), David Hickton (Univ. of Pittsburgh), Federica Iovene (Public Prosecutor, Court of Bolzano) Luigi Pavanello (PLLC, ABA International Law Commission), Fausto Pocar (Univ. of Milan, Judge at the International Court of Justice), Francesca Ragno (Univ. of Verona), Dawne Sepanski Hickton (Former CEO, RTI International Metals), Marco Torsello (Univ. of Verona), Matteo Winkler (Univ. HEC Paris).


New Trends in Collective Redress Litigation: International Seminar in Valencia

Professor Dr. Carlos Esplugues Mota (University of Valencia) has organized an international seminar on new trends in collective redress litigation that will take place on 25 November 2016 at the University of Valencia (Spain). The seminar will be held in English and Spanish. Topics and speakers will include:

Collective actions in private international law and Spanish legal practice (Prof. Dr. Laura Carballo Piñeiro, Universidad de Vigo)

International Mass Litigation in Product Liability Cases (Prof. Dr. Jan von Hein, University of Freiburg)

Protection of mortgagors (consumers) in the EU (Prof. Dr. Blanca Vila Costa, Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona)

Class actions and arbitration (Prof. Dr. Ana Montesinos García, Universitat de València)


UK court on Tort litigation Against Transnational Corporations

Ekaterina Aristova, PhD in Law Candidate, University of Cambridge authored this post on ‘Tort litigation Against Transnational Corporations: UK court will hear a case for overseas human rights abuses’. She welcomes comments.

On 27 May 2016, Mr Justice Coulson, sitting as a judge in the Technology and Construction Court, allowed a legal claim against UK-based mining corporation Vedanta Resources Plc (“Vedanta”) and its Zambian subsidiary Konkola Copper Mines (“KCP”) to be tried in the UK courts. These proceedings, brought by Zambian citizens alleging serious environmental pollution in their home country, is an example of the so-called “foreign direct liability” cases which have emerged in several jurisdictions in the last twenty years. Other cases currently pending in the UK courts include a claim by a Colombian farmer alleging environmental pollution caused by Equion Energia Ltd (formerly BP Exploration), two environmental claims arising from oil spillages against Shell, litigation against iron ore producer Tonkolili Iron Ore Ltd for alleged human rights violations in Sierra Leone and a dispute between Peruvian citizens and Xtrata Ltd involving grave human rights abuses of persons involved in environmental protest against the mining operations.

Transnational corporations (“TNCs”) have frequently been involved in various forms of corporate wrongdoing in many parts of the world. Severe abuses, reported by non-governmental organisations, range from murder to the violation of socio-economic rights. To date there has been only modest success in developing theoretical and practical solutions for legal enforcement of international corporate accountability. In the absence of an international legally binding instrument addressing human rights obligations of private corporations and the various regulatory problems in host states, a few jurisdictions have evidenced a growing trend of civil liability cases against TNCs. These cases are examples of private claims brought by the victims of overseas corporate abuse against parent companies in the courts of the home states. While US courts continue to debate issues of jurisdiction over extraterritorial human rights corporate abuses, the UK courts have recently being consistent in allowing claims against local parent companies of TNCs. The case against Vedanta is the most recent example of this trend.

A.   Facts of the case

On 31 July 2015, 1,826 Zambian citizens, residents of four communities in the Chingola region, commenced proceedings against Vedanta and KCM in the Technology and Construction Court of the High Court of England, alleging personal injury, damage to property, loss of income, and loss of amenity and enjoyment of land. The majority of the claimants are farmers who rely on the land and local rivers as their primary source of livehood. They also rely on the local waterways as the main source of clean water for drinking, washing, bathing and irrigating farms. The claimants’ communities are located close to the Nchanga Copper Mine that is operated by KCM, an indirect subsidiary of Vedanta. The mine commenced operations in 1937, but Vedanta acquired a controlling share in KCM in 2004. KCM operates a mine as a holder of a mining licence in accordance with the local legislative requirements that operations be run through a locally domiciled subsidiary. The claimants allege that from 2005 they have been suffering from pollution and environmental damage caused by the mine’s operations. They allege that the discharge of harmful effluent in the waterways has endangered their livelihoods and physical, economic and social wellbeing.

In September and October 2015, both defendants applied for a declaration that the English court does not have jurisdiction to hear the claims. The defendants argued that Zambia was an appropriate forum to try the claims since it is the place where the claimants reside and where the damage is said to have occurred. In the course of a three-day hearing in April 2016 both parties presented their arguments. The judgement allowing a legal claim against both defendants to be tried in England was delivered on 27 May 2016.


Publication book Resolving Mass Disputes

An interesting book entitled Resolving Mass Disputes. ADR and Settlement of Mass Claims, edited by Christopher Hodges (Centre for Social-Legal Studies, Oxford/Erasmus University Rotterdam) and Astrid Stadler (University of Konstanz/Erasmus University Rotterdam) has just been published (Edward Elgar, 2013).

The blurb reads:

The landscape of mass litigation in Europe has changed impressively in recent years, and collective redress litigation has proved a popular topic. Although much of the literature focuses on the political context, contentious litigation, or how to handle cross-border multi-party cases, this book has a different focus and a fresh approach.