"For a consumer to be able to sue a foreign trader before the national courts, it is not necessary that the contract at issue was concluded at a distance."
That was the conclusion drawn from a judgement by the European Court of Justice on 6 September, following referral of a case from the Supreme Court in Austria.
It means in practice that the fact that a consumer travels to another member state to conclude a contract with a trader does not therefore prevent the courts of the consumer's member state from having jurisdiction, according to a statement from the court.
The Austrian Supreme Court, as the court of final appeal in that country, was hearing an action brought by an Austrian woman against a German motor trader.
The woman, a Ms Mühlleitner, "seeks rescission of the contract for the sale of the vehicle she bought from [the dealer] for her private use. Ms Mühlleitner came across the offer...by searching on the internet. However, to sign the contract of purchase and take delivery of the vehicle, she went to Hamburg. On her return to Austria she discovered that the vehicle was defective."
The dealers refused to repair the vehicle and disputed the jurisdiction of the Austrian courts after the subsequent legal action by Ms Mühlleitner. They argued that the contract was not 'concluded at a distance'.
The Court of Justice, however, held that, as of 2004, the "consumer's possibility of bringing proceedings before the courts of his member state against a trader domiciled in another member state is not subject to the condition that the contract was concluded at a distance".
The release issued by the court states: "EU law aims to protect the consumer, as the weaker party to the contract, in cross-border disputes by facilitating his access to the courts, in particular by geographical proximity of the court which has jurisdiction. The consumer may thus sue in his national courts a trader with whom he has concluded a contract, even if the trader is domiciled in another member state, on two conditions: first, the trader must pursue commercial or professional activities in the member state in which the consumer resides or, by any means (for example, via the internet), direct such activities to that member state and, secondly, the contract at issue must fall within the scope of such activities."
• This is a news story derived from an unofficial document issued for press use.