In its landmark judgments of 20 October, 2016 the Helsinki Court of Appeal (the “Court”) heavily reduced the damages awarded by the Helsinki District Court in the significant asphalt cartel damages cases. The Court awarded damages to the Finnish state and 39 municipalities in the total amount of some 34 million euros and rejected the major part of the damages claims against the companies involved in the asphalt cartel.
In many important legal questions of interpretation, the Court deviated from the rather claimant friendly approach taken by the Helsinki District Court.
For example, the District Court applied the EU law doctrine of economic succession to the damages claims based on the principle of effectiveness without any express ground for such application under national law. The Court took a completely different view and found that the EU law principle of effectiveness cannot be used to extend liability for damages to a party outside the sphere of responsibility for such damages. Hence, the principles applicable to the imposition of penalty payments cannot automatically be applied in the context of damages actions.
Moreover, as regards the limitation period based on the claimants’ awareness, the Court considered – in stark contrast to the District Court – that the limitation period started running already when the Finnish Competition and Consumer Authority made its proposal to the Market Court to impose fines on the cartelists. The Court, consequently, found that some of the claims were time-barred. The District Court had considered that the limitation period was triggered only by the final judgment of the Supreme Administrative Court confirming the existence of the cartel.
The judgments also include some other interesting interpretations, which are not in all aspects aligned with the EU Directive on Antitrust Damages (2014/104/EU). Some of the judgments have been appealed to the Supreme Court and are therefore not legally binding. The saga is, thus, not yet complete and the Supreme Court’s judgments may shed further light on, among other, the above controversial issues.
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