Get Your Free Copy of Our Civil Litigation Brochure

Practical Information from Court Savy German Litigators

In the brand new brochure “A Short Guide to Civil & Commercial Litigation in Germany”, I explain the basics of commercial litigation under German Civil Procedure Rules: How to prepare, which court to approach, whether to try to negotiate a settlement and – if so – when. How to adapt to the very different German civil procedure rules with regard to evidence. And finally, what to do and – more importantly – what not to do in a German courtroom.

After 20 years of experience in international litigation, working mainly fro British and American clients, I am well aware of the typical misconceptions held by UK and US business owners and their lawyers. These misconceptions result in poor litigation strategy and – eventually – lost cases in German courts of law.

Avoid the trap of preparing your lawsuit as you would in the UK or USA when – in fact – you will face a German judge who has entirely different expectations.

The brochure is a must read for anyone involved in German civil litigation

Make sure you get your free copy by dropping us an email to info@graflegal.com

 


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Check the National Register of German Attorneys at Law

The official professional title of a German lawyer is Rechtsanwalt (male) oder Rechtsanwältin (female). Only fully qualified German lawyers who have passed both legal exams are entitled to refer to themselves as “Rechtsanwalt” or – in short – “Anwalt”. The use of the word “Anwalt” in Germany corresponds with the use of “counsellor” in the USA.

The German legal profession is not divided into two classes of lawyers (solicitors and barristers). Instead, as in the USA, a German counsellor is permitted to appear and represent clients in court. Unlike in the USA, the right to practice law in Germany is not restricted to a certain German state (Bundesland) or region. Instead, while they take their bar exam in a certain state and are members of a local bar association, all German lawyers are admitted to all courts throughout the country. Thus, a Bavarian litigation lawyer from Munich may, for instance, appear in a Berlin court, without any need for prior registration or getting the licence registered in that state.

The only exception is the Bundesgerichtshof (German Supreme Court), where only specially accredited German lawyers have the right of audience in civil matters. Those lawyers are referred to as Rechtsanwälte am Bundesgerichts (for a list of these lawyers see here).

If you need to hire a German lawyer and you are uncertain whether the lawyer you have found on the web is actually admitted to practice law in Germany, there is a very easy way to check and verify the name and professional address of said lawyer online. Simply visit the official register of German lawyers on the website of German Bar Association (Bundesrechtsanwaltkammer). The same is true in case you are being contacted by an alleged German lawyer and something appears fishy. Simply go on the official register and contact the address given there to verify.

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

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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Checklist & Terms of Engagement

If you consider hiring the German law office Graf & Partners to represent you in a German civil lawsuit, we recommend to carefully read the below checklist before you contact us with any details of your case. The information below will give you a better idea of whether Graf Legal is the right law firm for your German legal dispute.

  1. We exclusively take on German civil and business litigation cases. While we may be able to recommend criminal defense lawyers, Graf & Partners themselves do not take on criminal cases. Our lawyers are licensed to practice throughout Germany and in all German civil courts. Since our law office is located in the south of Germany, you may incur significant travel expenses if you wish us to represent you in a case which is heard before a court in northern Germany. In high profile international cases, however, such travel costs are usually considered to be insignificant.
  2. Before we can officially take on your case and open a file, we need to do a conflict of interest check and adhere to the Know Your Client (KYC) requirements. This means that we will need the full name, residential adress and a scan of the passport or official ID of the person(s) who wish to engage us as their German legal counsel. We will also need the details of the opponent in order to check whether the opponent is already on our client list.
  3. Please send a short summary of the facts of your case and let us know which actions you wish us to take on your behalf. Please note that our law firm receives dozens of enquiries each day, so the best way to get your case evaluated by one of our lawyers is if you provide us with a concise description of what the dispute is about. The better you can describe your problem, the faster we can get back to you with a decision whether we are able to take on the case or not. Please have realistic expectations with regards to turn-around times.  Some clients wait until the last-minute and then expect immediate attention to their matter, which isn’t always possible and – if possible – will trigger significantly higher legal fees.
  4. Lawyer fees and costs: Our attorneys bill by the hour, usually anywhere between EUR 280 and EUR 400 net per full hour. We usually ask for an upfront payment for legal fees of, depending on the scope and legal complexity of the matter, at least EUR 1,000 up to EUR 20,000 plus German VAT where applicable. Please note that under German law, minimum statutory lawyer fees do apply in all forensic matters. Any German lawyer is legally obligated to charge at least these baseline fees which are calculated based on the “value of the case”, i.e. the amount in dispute. These minimum fees under the German Lawyer remuneration Act (Rechtsanwaltsvergütungsgesetz) will have to be charged regardless of how much time was spent on the case. More details in this post: Basic Principles of Legal Costs in Germany
  5. Our minimum fee per case: The absolute minimum fee which we will charge in any litigation matter is EUR 1,000 net.  We are a highly specialised boutique law firm with a limited number of expert international litigation lawyers. Therefore, we are unable to take on small claims cases.
  6. Please note that contingency fee agreements are prohibited under German law, so please do not ask us to take on your case on a “no win no fee” basis. The answer is no. More on the German contingency fee ban in this post: No Win No Fee Agreements are Void in Germany
  7. Court fees: If you wish to initiate a German lawsuit, you will also need to pay court fees. These fees are due when we file the action on your behalf (Klageeinreichung). The court will not serve the complaint to the defendant unless and until you have paid the court fees.
  8. Client paperwork: Once we have made sure that we are able to take on your case, we will ask you to sign a fee agreement and a power of attorney form. Comprehensive letters of engagement are neither customary nor required under German law, because all clients are already well protected by German statutory law and professional lawyer regulations. More in this post: How to Retain a German Lawyer

If you decide to instruct our law office based on the above terms, we are looking forward to assessing your case and to representing you in a German court of law. Visit www.GrafLegal.com, the German civil litigation experts with 20+ years in international civil, business and corporate litigation.

 


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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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Lawyer Video on Probate in Europe

Our special interest blog www.internationalprobatelaw.com deals with the matter of how to administer German-American estates, how to obtain probate in Europe (especially Germany, Austria and England), the overseas succession laws and estate taxes (death taxes) in Europe.

Contentious Probate Proceedings in Germany (Erbscheinverfahren)

Normally, German probate cases are dealt with the local surrogate court (Amtsgericht). They issue the German grant of probate (also referred to as letter of succession or letter of administration) in a quite straight forward proceeding. Compared to the USA, German probate courts are not involved in the administration of the German estate. Once, the court has issued the grant, the judge’s job is done. For more on non-contentious probate in Germany see the post “How to challenge a will in Germany” as well as various articles about this topic on Cross Channel Lawyers.

In the unfortunate case that someone challenges a will in an international probate case (contentious probate), matters become much more complicated and expensive.

This Video deals with the 24 most frequently asked Questions on Overseas Probate

The overseas probate law experts at Graf Legal assist with international estate matters between the USA and Europe since 2003. In our experience, these are the questions most American clients run into when they are faced with an international inheritance case. German lawyer Bernhard Schmeilzl answers them in the video below. The list of questions contains the respective start time for each question so you can jump right to the specific topic you are interested in:

1) What is an “Erbschein”? (00:11)

2) Is the process for hiring a German lawyer different from hiring a lawyer in the States? (00:57)

3) How much does it cost to hire a European Lawyer? (02:06)

4) My deceased relative owned property in Europe. Do I need a separate grant of probate for those assets? (03:04)

5) How does German or English probate differ from American probate? (04:01)

6) Can I be personally held liable for the debts of an international estate? (04:47)

7) What documents do I need to submit to the German and English probate courts to have access to he estate? (05:47)

8) How long does the international probate process take? (06:58)

9) Will I have to travel to Germany or England in order to access the assets my loved one land? (07:41)

10) What are the rules of intestacy in Germany? (08:22)

11) How can we sell foreign assets in an estate? (09:16)

12) How can I get access to assets in Germany or England? (10:09)

13) Who administers a foreign estate if there is no Will? (11:07)

14) How can I swear the oath or give the affidavit with regards to the probate application? (12:11)

15) How do I get an inheritance tax clearance from German and England? (13:20)

16) Is there an estate tax on foreign assets? (14:29)

17) I received a letter from German probate court because a relative has died. What do I need to do? (15:14)

18) Is a United States Will valid in Germany and England? (16:04)

19) What are “forced heirship” rules? (16:56)

20) Am I entitled to a share of the estate if a foreign relative has died? (17:53)

21) What happens if someone contests the Will in Germany? (19:01)

22) Can I act as the executor or administrator abroad myself? (19:49)

23) I have foreign assets. How can I ensure they avoid probate? (20:22)

24) What is the principle of universal succession? (21:21)

Or just watch the entire video here




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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).

The second part of the German statement of claim, the so called “Begründetheit der Klage” (justification of the claim), deals with the actual legal merits of the claim. In this part of the civil complaint, the German plaintiff’s lawyer describes the nature of the injury and damages and lays out how the defendant caused the harm.

The actual “application for relief” (Klageantrag) is usually stated right at the beginning of the complaint (i.e. on page 1 or 2). Some old-fashioned German litigation lawyers, however, put the demand for relief at the end of the German civil complaint. In the Klageantrag, the plaintiff may seek a wide variety of remedies, inter alia the payment of a specific amount of money to compensate for the damages (Zahlungsanspruch), or a court order against the defendant to stop a specific conduct (Unterlassungsanspruch). A German civil court may order many other types of relief, for details see this post.

Preparation of a German Civil Case

As we have explained in other posts (here), there is neither any discovery procedure under German civil procedure rules, nor are there any depositions or written witness statements. There is also no jury and no cross-examination of witnesses. German civil cases are much more centered around the judge (or panel of judges). These judges do not appreciate showboat lawyers trying to create a spectacle (to impress their client). Instead, these German judges want to be presented the relevant facts. Calmly and without aggressively attacking witnesses or experts. Remember that nowadays approximately 50% of German high court judges are female. They are usually not a fan of too much lawyer testosterone in the courtroom.

Since there is no jury and since the professional German judges are already well aware of the facts of the case from the submitted briefs, there are usually also no closing arguments. Once the relevant witnesses are heard (questions are asked by the judge!), the judge gives the parties an opportunity to discuss the case, especially to consider a late stage settlement. If this fails, the oral hearing is usually ended rather abruptly and the court adjourns.

This German style of a rather “mellow approach to civil litigation” often creates considerable frustration for US clients and their US attorneys because they feel that their side is not being presented as it should be. And a reasonable dose of US style aggressiveness in a German courtroom can work wonders. We frequently use these “shock and awe” tactics for our international clients. However, overdoing this in a German courtroom can be counterproductive. German trial lawyers who represent US or UK clients in Germany must explain the options and openly discuss strategy.

All this leads to a very different preparation of the civil lawsuit compared to the USA or the United Kingdom. In general, the oral hearings themselves are much less dramatic and also much less important for the outcome of the lawsuit. The lawyer’s briefs (Schriftsätze) together with reports of expert witnesses (Sachverständige), who are selected, instructed and questioned by the court – not by the parties, are generally what decides the case.

Settling a German Lawsuit

To avoid the stress, delay and expense which come with a formal trial, German civil procedure rules encourage litigants to attempt to reach any amicable resolution of the legal dispute. Thus, it is not only permitted but highly recommended and expressly encouraged by German civil litigation judges to settle a lawsuit – at any stage. The German system of statutory legal fees (both court and lawyer fees) also incentivises settlements. To be blunt: German lawyers earn more fees if they can get their clients to settle. More on this in the post: How to Settle a Lawsuit in Germany.

Oral Hearing in German Civil Proceedings

As explained above, there is no jury. Thus, oral hearings in German civil lawsuits are much shorter. If there is no need to hear witnesses or experts, and if the parties are unwilling to discuss a settlement, the hearing can be over in 10 minutes. For more on oral hearings in a German civil procedure see here .

The taking of evidence in a German civil trial is explained in this post here. Further major differences between civil litigation in German and the USA are that (i) there are no verbatim records or transcripts of what is said in the German oral hearings (details here), much less are there any video cameras or live broadcast; and (ii) the court documents are not public record.

How are Judgments issued by German Civil Courts?

Once all evidence is presented, expert reports have been obtained and once there has been at least one oral hearing, the court decides whether there is the need for another oral hearing or whether the court is willing to allow the parties to submit one final statement within a specific deadline (Schriftsatzfrist).

Whenever the court is satisfied that all relevant aspects have been duly dealt with and both parties have had sufficient opportunity to state their arguments and to present their evidence, then the court informs the parties about the date on which the judgment will be handed down (Verkündungstermin). Again, since there is no jury, this is a rather undramatic. In the vast majority of cases, neither party shoes up for the rendition of the judgment (Urteilsverkündung), because that would be over in 2 minutes since the judge only reads the operative provisions (Urteilstenor), i.e. who has won the lawsuit. In practice, both parties’ lawyers have a paralegal call the court on the day of the Urteilsverkündung and ask the court clerk to fax or email an advance copy of the judgment. The official copy of the German judgment will then be sent by post within a few days. Usually, the judgment is served to the parties’ lawyers who will then evaluate the reasons given by the court. Based on this evaluation, they will then advise their clients on whether it makes sense to officially appeal the German judgment.

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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What to do if you are served with a German Default Judgment?

In German civil litigation cases, the court will immediately issue a default court order (Versäumnisurteil) against any party that does not appear for a court hearing unless that party (claimant or defendant) is properly excused. This is why every German litigation lawyer worth his or her salt has the court’s phone number on speed dial in case the lawyer gets stuck in a traffic jam on the way to court. Otherwise, if there is a no show without a credible excuse or if a party is more than 15 minutes late, the court will issue the Versäumnisurteil right there and then.

In the good old times, there was a gentlemen’s agreement between German litigation lawyers not to apply for a default judgment in such a situation in order not to get the opposing lawyer into trouble with their client. But those days are long gone and nowadays it’s the exact opposite: it would be considered gross malpractice by a litigation lawyer not to apply for a default judgment if the other party’s lawyer does not show up for the hearing.

Even before an oral hearing date is set, the German court may already issue a Versaumnisurteil against the defendant if the defendant does not properly file the official notice of defence (Verteidigungsanzeige) within the so called “Notfrist” (meaning “emergency deadline” or “absolute deadline”) set by the German court. “Notfrist” (absolute deadline) means that such a deadline cannot be extended. It must be kept no matter what.

A common mistake by defendants in Germany is that the defendant him- or herself tries to correspond with the court instead of appointing a licensed legal counsel which is mandatory from the German High Court (Landgericht) level up. Only at the District Court level (Amtsgericht) or in Labour Courts a party may represent themselves (which, of course, is usually still a bad idea even if permitted). The specific requirements and consequences of a German civil procedure default judgment are set out in sections 330 to 347 German Civil Procedure Code.

Never ignore a Default Judgment

In case you have been served a German court document titled “Versäumnisurteil“, you must react immediately, especially if you own any assets in Germany, because these assets can very quickly be seized based on the default judgment alone. What makes the German default judgment so dangerous is the fact that it becomes final and binding if the party on the receiving end does not enter a formal protest (Einspruch) against said default judgment within a strict court deadline. The period is usually only two weeks from the day you have been served with the judgment, see section 339 German Civil procedure Rules. In cross-border cases, the court may grant somewhat longer filing periods, usually one month. Again, the tricky part is that on the level of German High Courts (Landgericht) and above, such a protest (Einspruch) will only be accepted if filed by a properly licensed German lawyer. Letters or faxes from the USA, even if send by a US attorney at law, will simply be disregarded. Therefore, you must not wait until the deadline is almost expired because you need to hire a German lawyer in time for them to file the protest on your behalf!

Default Judgments can be enforced even in case of a Protest

What makes matters even worse: Even if the party who has received a default judgment against them does file a protest in time and the civil lawsuit is thus continued, the other party may still use the existing default judgment to enforce the claim on an interim basis (vorläufig vollstreckbares Urteil). This means that just because the defendant may have missed a court deadline or was more than 15 minutes late for a court hearing, the claimant is able to immediately seize property, a bank account or the salary of the defendant in Germany. If only as a preliminary measure, i.e. the claimant must eventually return the seized German assets in case the court does rule against the claimant in the final judgment. However, until then, the claimant is already in possession of the assets which is a huge strategic advantage.

Thus, you should avoid at all times to risk finding yourself at the receiving end of a German default judgment.

More information on litigation 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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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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Get the best of both worlds: a professional German judge in a non-public civil proceeding

Parties to civil litigation often fear the public nature of a lawsuit, be it in the USA or in Germany. This is especially true for commercial and corporate cases as well as any litigation involving celebrities. The parties do not want their competitors and the public to learn about confidential business matters or — in case of celebrities — their private lives.

Therefore, many businesses and high profile individuals use arbitration clauses in their contracts to avoid ending up in a court room ful of reporters. However, arbitration is usually significantly more expensive compared to a “normal” German court case, because the arbitrators are high profile lawyers from big law firms who charge hourly rates north of EUR 500 easily. This is particularly trie in Germany where the statutory court fees are comparatively low (see here).

Furthermore, picking the right arbitrator(s) is difficult and time consuming. The parties need to agree on a competent lawyer who is available in the near future and who’s law office does not have a conflict of interest.

Mediation / Arbitration at German High Courts

In many cases, the ideal solution to this may be to opt for a German “Güterichterverfahren“, an open mediation / arbitration proceeding which takes place before a German high court judge (Güterichter) and to which the basic principles of the German civil procedure rules do apply. However, such a Güteverfahren is entirely confidential and the parties are free to define the scope of the dispute, i.e. they can include additional matters to achieve an overall solution. The German mediation / arbitration hearings in the Güterichterverfahren usually take place at the German court house but behind closed doors. There are official hearing minutes (Protokoll) but they are only available to the parties, not to the public.

What are the advantages of German high court arbitration?

German civil law judges actively encourage the parties to a legal dispute to consider such a court arbitration proceeding, even if a “normal” civil lawsuit has already been filed, see section 278 para. 5 German Civil Procedure Code. The advantages of this German high court arbitration are:

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Here’s why you can’t find any Process Servers in Germany

So you are a US, Canadian or British lawyer who needs to serve court papers to a party who is resident in Germany? Since you read this post, you have probably already realized that googling “Process Server Germany” does not get you anywhere. The simple explanation for why you are having such a hard time to find decent German process service providers on the internet: There aren’t any.

Germany has no tradition of instructing private process servers. No German lawyer would use them to deliver domestic legal documents to anyone who is resident in Germany. Because, under German civil procedure rules, they would simply see no need for it.

This post explains why the process server business sector never caught on in Germany and what German lawyers do in order to prove delivery of their legal papers.

Then how do German Lawyers serve Legal Documents?

Firstly, in German civil litigation, the German civil court usually serves the documents to the respective parties, witnesses and experts. This does not only refer to the court orders, but to all correspondence between the court and parties. While direct service from one party to the other is possible under german civil procedure rules, this is the exception to the rule. Since everyone who lives in Germany must be officially registered with the resident’s registration office (Einwohnermeldeamt), everyone — at least in theory — has an official registered private address and can be served with documents by simply sending those documents to said address.

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Avoid the #1 Litigation Blunder: Incomplete or incorrectly spelled Company Names of German Defendants

In corporate litigation, there can be no “close enough” approach when it comes to the designation of the Plaintiff or Defendant. A litigation lawyer who sues a German company must be dead-on with all factual information about the parties. The name of each company, corporation or partnership involved in the German civil procedure must be absolutely precise, complete and up to date.

Otherwise, under German civil procedure rules, you may lose the lawsuit. Simply because you have sued the wrong defendant. The German civil procedure buzzwords for this problem are “falscher Beklagter” and “fehlende Passivlegitimation”.

Even if the (incorrectly designated) defendant remains entirely passive throughout the German civil lawsuit, i.e. the Defendant does not object to anything and your client is thus awarded a German default judgment (Versäumnisurteil), the client’s joy about the German court judgment will most likely be short-lived, since chances are that the client will soon learn that the judgment is unenforceable.

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May a Witness in German Civil Litigation refuse to give Testimony?

Under German Rules of Civil Procedure, any natural person, including minors, can be named as a witness (Zeuge) by a party to a civil procedure. The civil court then decides on whether and to what extent these witnesses (as designated by the parties in their briefs to the court) need to be heard, i.e. whether — in the view of the court — the specific issue which the witness shall give testimony on, is:

(i) relevant for the court’s decision; and

(ii) still in dispute between Plaintiff and Defendant after the exchange of briefs.

If the answer to both requirements is yes, the respective witnesses will consequently be summoned (geladen) by the German civil court. In practice, each witness will be sent a letter by the civil court (Zeugenladung) which demands the witness to attend an oral hearing in order to be questioned as a relevant witness on one or several specific issue(s), the so called “topics for questioning” (Beweisthema), see s. 377 German Civil Procedure Code. Thus, the witness is informed a few weeks prior to the actual oral hearing date what the court will ask him to testify on. The witness summons only describes this topic in rather broad terms. Normally, the witness summons letter does not contain any specific questions (this is different when it comes to expert witnesses). A typical example of the content of such a German civil court summons letter to a witness of fact would be:

“In the civil lawsuit between A and B regarding a car accident on Z-street on the … around … o’clock you have been named as a witness. You shall give testimony about the details how the accident occurred.”

In some cases, the court may permit the witness to testify in writing, i.e. by answering the questions by sending in a letter. This is, however, the exception to the rule.

Duties of a Witness under German Civil Procedure Law

The standard procedure is that the witness must attend the court hearing in person. Every person summoned by a German civil court has the duty to appear in court, to testify truthfully (s. 390 et seqq. German Civil Procedure Rules) and to swear an oath if this is demanded by the court (which it very rarely is, as I have explained here).

This general obligation of a German witness to give testimony in a civil lawsuit exists, however, exclusively vis-a-vis the court itself. There are no pre-trial depositions in Germany. Instead, the witness is questioned only in court and primarily by the judge.

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German Civil Court Judges rarely put a Witness under Oath

Section 154 German Penal Code (Strafgesetzbuch) is titled “Meineid”, which is the German word for perjury, i.e. lying under oath to certain German authorities, either in a German court of law (Gericht) or in another official proceeding.

However, in real life, prosecution for perjury is very rare in Germany. This is not because all Germans are perfectly honest and no one lies in German court rooms (trust me, there is plenty of lying), but because not many German judges demand a witness to swear an oath. Not even when the judge is rather sure that he or she was just lied to by the witness.

Why does German law (appear to) employ such a soft approach towards “lying witnesses” in civil procedure? This post describes the method of hearing witnesses in a German civil lawsuit and explains why many civil law court judges in Germany are hesitant to put a witness under oath.

Witness Evidence in German Civil Litigation

First, you must remember that there is no jury in a German court of law (more here). The case is decided by a professional judge only. The German approach is that a witness shall be questioned by the judge (instead of by the parties) and shall tell “the story as the witness remembers it”. The witness shall coherently describe what he or she recalls, i.e. in a freely worded statement which is uninterrupted by constant questions by a party’s legal counsel. “Coherently” (“im Zusammenhang”) is the important buzzword here, see section 396 para. 1 German Code of Civil Procedure. This German civil procedure statute explicitly prohibits a rapid fire cross-examination style questioning of a witness.

The method of hearing witnesses in German civil litigation is therefore the exact opposite of the rather aggressive “question by question” approach used in the United States. German civil procedure rules do not believe in pressuring or leading witnesses. Instead, the German judge asks the questions rather broadly and then lets the witness speak. A typical question by a German civil court judge would be:

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