The court in Cáceres issued a judgment on 6 February this year concerning compensation from truck manufacturers. The judge was convinced by an expert opinion submitted by the lawyers. Carriers will receive substantial compensation.
The CCS Abogados law firm represents carriers who, during the period of the price collusion, purchased a total of approximately 35,000 trucks. The court in Cáceres, which issued a judgment on 6 February this year, found that the carriers paid 16.35% more for the vehicles than they would have paid had there not been any price collusion.
The ruling was based on the expertise presented by the law firm:
The damage was shown by the plaintiff. In the expert study it was explained and justified on the basis of a comparison of the market for medium and heavy trucks (covered by the cartel) with the light truck market. Of course, these are not perfectly substitutable products, but there are enough similarities (they are sold in the same locations, the buyer can choose between a light or medium truck in many variations, etc.) to consider them as similar products and markets. This in turn makes the comparative method, on the basis of which the plaintiff’s expert opinion estimates the damage, more reliable. The comparative method is recommended in such cases (as opposed to the purely statistical method),” explained the court.
The manufacturers, in turn, argued that the affected operators were able to reduce the impact of the higher costs of the trucks by passing on part of them to the shippers and forwarders in the freight price or by increasing the resale price of the truck to the aftermarket after years of use (the so-called passing on of costs).
However, the court disagreed with the lawyers of the defendants.
The argument that the carrier was able to pass on the excess costs to its customers must be ruled out, which was also explained and justified in the plaintiff’s report. When a truck enters the aftermarket, many other factors influence its price. Whereas, when setting the price for services (freight) between a carrier and a customer, the negotiating power of the former is very limited (about 75% of carriers have one or two trucks); besides, factors such as driver’s remuneration, allowances, fuel, etc. have a much greater impact on transport rates than the purchase price of a truck. The purchase of a truck represents only about 11.9% of a transport company’s operating costs,” explains the court in Cáceres.
First final judgment
This is not the first judgment in favour of carriers in cases against truck manufacturers in Spain. In October last year, the Pontevedra Commercial Court issued a judgment ordering the manufacturer to pay compensation of almost €40,000 to the transport company Kartín SL. According to the law firm Balms Abogados of Vigués, which represented the carrier, “this was the first final judgment in Spain” concerning the cartel of truck manufacturers and the first such judgment in Europe.
The court ordered Iveco to pay compensation for the purchase of three trucks between 2003 and 2008. It amounts to €20,000 for overpricing vehicles (9% of the price paid) and about €19,200 for interest.
However, the most prominent was the judgment of the Commercial Court in Murcia, which at the end of 2018 ordered Volvo Group Spain to pay compensation of €128,757 plus interest for the purchase of five trucks in October 2012 (which is one year after the end of the cartel). The claimant’s lawyer managed to prove that the price of the trucks purchased in 2012 was still overstated due to the price collusion by as much as 20.7%. That’s almost €26,000 per truck. This amount is much higher than the experts’ estimates, which oscillated around an average of €10,000 per vehicle.
This ruling is very advantageous from the point of view of the carrier because according to calculations of the European Commission, the prices were overstated by 1-10%.
But the Spanish courts are not always so favourable to transport operators. In March 2019, the Commercial Court of Valencia ruled against the Spanish carrier Llácer & Navarro, who had bought 108 Volvo and Renault trucks during the period in which the cartel was in operation. The Valencia court ordered the Renault Trucks and Volvo Trucks to pay compensation of €360,000, i.e. only 5% of the value of the purchase price at that time (approx. €3,300 per truck).
The German courts, on the other hand, seem to be much more cautious about compensation from manufacturers. In the first week of February, the District Court of Munich dismissed a lawsuit for damages for the carriers represented by the law firm Financialright. The presiding judge, Gesa Lutz, stated that the carriers had commissioned a dispute with the financier of the trial, in breach of the Law on Legal Services.
German lawyers knew beforehand, however, that they would have a difficult task ahead of them. Judge Gesa Lutz, who ruled on the first half a billion euro damages claim, considered that ‘blind claims are not enough’ and that the plaintiffs must prove that a truck bought for €110,000 would only have cost €100,000 if the manufacturers had not been in collusion.