WHERE IS MY JURY?

Everything you know about litigation as a U.S. lawyer is wrong for a German lawsuit. Brace yourself for a court room culture shock.

 

WHO’S TALKING?

German trial lawyer Bernhard Schmeilzl heads the litigation team of Graf & Partners LLP, a German law firm for Anglo-American clients.

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Why are German Wills often successfully challenged and voided?

As in most jurisdictions, a German Last Will can be challenged if the testator, at the time of making the Will,

(i) lacked mental capacity (in German: if he or she was “testierunfähig”); or

(ii) was under undue influence, e.g. pressured or threatened (“bedroht”); or

(iii) was under some false impression (“im Irrtum”), i.e. erred about certain circumstances.

These are the most commonly known standard legal reasons based on which a Will can be made void. German inheritance law, however, has a few surprises to offer.

More legal grounds for challenging Wills under German Succession Laws

Under German inheritance law, there are additional grounds for challenging a will which are unknown to most Common Law systems. These are the so called “Anfechtungen wegen Übergehung eines Pflichtteilsberechtigten”section 2079 German Civil Code (Bürgerliches Gesetzbuch).

These rights to challenge and make void an otherwise perfectly fine German will often surprise and take aback even German beneficiaries and their lawyers. The idea behind these statutes is to protect the interests of the surviving spouse and of children if the Will has been set up at a time when the testator was not yet married to said spouse or the (additional) child has not been born. In these circumstances, if the testator does not amend, i.e. update, his or her “old” will, the spouse or child not mentioned therein can make this will void by appealing to the German probate court (Nachlassgericht), which must be done within certain deadlines.

The details on how to formally challenge a Will in Germany are explained in this blog here. and in the post “Contentious Probate in Germany

More on litigation and legal costs in Germany:

For legal advice on German civil procedure and how to successfully litigate in Germany, contact the international litigation experts and trial lawyers of GrafLegal.

Copyright & Disclaimer All posts are copyrighted material. This blog is made available by Graf & Partners for educational purposes as well as to give you general information on German law, not to provide specific legal advice. Simply reading this blog does, of course, not result in any attorney client relationship between you and Graf & Partners. The blog should not be used as a substitute for competent legal advice provided by a licensed professional attorney in a specific legal matter.


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Corona forces German courts into de facto lockdown for 2020

If you want to end a German legal dispute in the foreseeable future – settle!

If you have beef with a German business partner, do not count on any help from German civil or business courts during spring and summer 2020. While German civil courts are officially still open and working, oral hearings (mündliche Verhandlungen) are being postponed, stayed or outright cancelled.

In theory, pursuant to sec. 128a German Civil Procedure Rules (link to the English translation of the statute available here) German court hearings (mündliche Verhandlung) can be conducted via video conference (skype, zoom etc), but most German judges are sceptical and unfamiliar with these options. Pre Corona, this was simply not necessary and virtually no German civil or business court judge has felt a need to consider an online video conference hearing.

Without such oral hearings, the court cannot decide the case, unless the parties agree on settlement terms which will then be confirmed and sealed by the court.

Corona forces parties to settle unless they are prepared to wait 6-9 months

Therefore: Try hard to settle any legal disputes as soon as possible! Even after the factual lockdown has ended (whenever that may be), it will take the German civil and business courts many months to get a grip on their backlog of cases.

Another important aspect to consider: Due to the unavoidable recession in Germany and around the world, in Summer and Fall of 2020 many German defendants will be bankrupt.

Thus, even if you eventually win the case, it will not do you (or your client) any good because chances are you (your client) will not be able to enforce the claim against the (bankrupt) German defendant anymore. So, settle the dispute, cut your losses and run!

More information on litigation and legal fees in Germany is available in these posts:

For legal advice on German civil procedure and how to successfully litigate in Germany, contact the international litigation experts and trial lawyers of GrafLegal.

Copyright & Disclaimer All posts are copyrighted material. This blog is made available by Graf & Partners for educational purposes as well as to give you general information on German law, not to provide specific legal advice. Simply reading this blog does, of course, not result in any attorney client relationship between you and Graf & Partners. The blog should not be used as a substitute for competent legal advice provided by a licensed professional attorney in a specific legal matter.


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The Process and Main Stages of Civil Litigation in Germany

Filing a Civil Complaint

In order to initiate a civil lawsuit (Zivilprozess) in Germany, the plaintiff (Kläger) files a complaint with the competent German court (see here). This complaint is called “Klage” or “Klageschrift”, which means “statement of claim”.

After due registration by the court and a very preliminary compliance check with regards to the formal requirements set out by the German Civil Procedure Rules, the complaint is then served to the defendant. In most cases, the court itself takes care of the service procedure, but only after the claimant has either paid the court fees (Gerichtskosten) or has been granted legal aid by the court, which requires the claimant to demonstrate reasonable chances of success.

Personal service of civil litigation documents is normally not required in Germany and – as long as there is a valid address of the defendant within Germany — the claimant does not have to bother with any matters of service at all (for details see here).

In addition to the Klageschrift (complaint) itself, the court will serve to the defendant a letter setting a deadline for the defendant to inform the court whether they wish to dispute the claim. This deadline is usually 2 weeks if the defendant is resident in Germany but can be significantly longer if the defendant resides outside Germany. The court documents will contain detailed explanatory notes on the rights and obligations of the defendant. If the defendant misses this deadline, the German court will issue a default judgment (Veräumnisurteil), which is explained here.

In the Klageschrift (civil complaint), the plaintiff or their lawyer first explain why this specific German court has jurisdiction (Zuständigkeit) and demonstrate that all other formal requirements are satisfied, for example that the plaintiff is duly represented by a German licensed lawyer which is required on the High Court level and up (Postulationsfähigkeit), that the case is not already pending elsewhere (anderweitige Rechtshängigkeit), and that the lawsuit is not frivolous (Rechtsschutzbedürfnis). This part of the complaint is called “Zulässigkeit der Klage” (admissibility of the complaint).

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What is an “Unterlassungsklage”?

If you start a business in Germany, it is hard to avoid being taken to court by a competitor who files a German cease and desist order lawsuit against you in order to tell you what you are allowed to do and what you are not. Why so?

Germans have a lot of rules. An old saying is “Alles muss seine Ordnung haben” which means “everything must be in order”. But what good are rules if no one bothers to obey them?

Unlike the Italians and the Greek, who – at least on paper – also have a lot of laws and regulations, which – however – in everyday life no one seems to care about, Germans cannot bear if someone continuously does not play by the rules. There is the cliché of the German pedestrian waiting for the traffic light to turn green at 3 a.m. in the morning with no car in sight.

Getting sued in Germany is a matter of weeks!

That is why an extremely popular litigation tool under German law is the “Unterlassungsklage”, the German version of a cease and desist order application. This is used in all areas of German life, business and private. A neighbor repeatedly parks his car in your driveway? File a cease and desist order to prevent that from happening again. Someone sends you unwanted advertising emails? File a cease and desist order. A business competitor does not comply with German trade regulations on his web shop? File a cease … Well, you get the picture.

Sounds funny, but this can be a serious obstacle for non-German businesses starting up in Germany. We have had cases where a British or US business was confronted with 50+ cease and desist lawsuits by German competitors within the first month of trying to do business in Germany. For more on the German tradition of stress testing any newcomers see this post: Harsh Unfair Competition Rules in Germany

More information on litigation and legal fees in Germany is available in these posts:

For legal advice on German civil procedure and how to successfully litigate in Germany, contact the international litigation experts and trial lawyers of GrafLegal.


Copyright & Disclaimer All posts are copyrighted material. This blog is made available by Graf & Partners for educational purposes as well as to give you general information on German law, not to provide specific legal advice. Simply reading this blog does, of course, not result in any attorney client relationship between you and Graf & Partners. The blog should not be used as a substitute for competent legal advice provided by a licensed professional attorney in a specific legal matter.

 


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Can German patients demand a complete copy of their medical file?

They certainly can. The German Civil Code contains an entire chapter on medical treatment and patient rights. Section 630g German Civil Code regulates that a patient has the right to demand to personally inspect the original patient file. This includes computer files as well as any handwritten notes that may exist. Nowadays, most physicians and certainly all hospitals keep patient files in electronic form. Thus, in practice, the doctors and medical institutions will offer to provide the patient with a copy of the medical records in such electronic form, i.e. as a CD, DVD or cloud based download option.

In some cases, especially when it comes to psychotherapy or mental disorder treatment, the neurologist oder psychotherapist may reason that it is against the patient’s best interest to grant him or her full knowledge of the file. However, this paternalistic view becomes more and more rare. Nowadays, German courts usually do rule in favour of the patient who wants to obtain full knowledge of his or her medical records, even if the patient may not be happy about the medical findings contained in such files.

How to obtain medical records to prepare a German tort case

We have explained in this post (link) how to make a personal injury claim in Germany. As far as compensation for pain and suffering (Schmerzensgeld) is concerned, such German personal injury lawsuits do not provide quite the same upside potential as in the United States due to the lack of a jury and due to the restrictive tradition of German law when it comes to non-monetary damages. Still, German law, in principle does compensate a patient for all costs, losses, expenses and also some non-monetary damages.

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“I can’t do any literary work for the rest of this year because I’m meditating another lawsuit and looking around for a defendant.”

– Mark Twain

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