Class Action in Italy

With the aim of protecting consumers’ rights, finance law (“Legge Finanziaria”) no. 244 of December 24, 2007 introduced a new type of legal remedy entitled the “azione collettiva,” or “class action,” to the Italian legal system, which allows plaintiffs with similar injuries to consolidate their claims into a single lawsuit. Pursuant to the class action law, consumers may claim damages or refunds in relation to:

•   “identical claims” under standard-form contracts, which we believe would include form agreements such as those we enter into with our subscribers) (article 1342 of the Italian Civil Code); and

•   “identical rights” arising out of torts, unfair trade or competition practices.

The Class Action is now regulated by sec. 140-bis of the Italian consumers’ code 1 (Legislative Decree of 6 September 2005, no. 2061 - hereinafter “Sec. 140-bisand the “Consumers’ Code”).

Plaintiffs may be consumers associations (i.e., associations having as their exclusive purpose the safeguarding of interests and rights of consumers) as defined in the article 3 of legislative decree no. 206 of September 6, 2005, as amended, and Italian independent public entities and EU organizations which are included in the list of entities legally authorized to bring actions to safeguard collective interests of consumers. 

The class action law was scheduled to take effect on July 1, 2009, but the Italian Government postponed the effectiveness of the law to January 1, 2010 (decree no. 78 dated July 1, 2009).

The Class Action can be brought against any commercial, financial, banking and insurance enterprise  for damages and claims arising from standard form contracts, tort liability, unfair trade practices and anticompetitive practices affecting a group of consumers.

The Italian competent court for the purposes of the Class Action is that of the place where the Enterprise has its registered office. No criteria are set out in the event that the Enterprise has no registered office in Italy.

It seems quite clear that new legislation regarding the Class Action, in any case, lacks some clarity and presents a number of flaws: among others, uncertainty as to legal standing; competent court for foreign enterprises; criteria to determine damages.

Such shortcomings will need to be addressed in the future either by the lawmakers or by the courts in order to achieve legal certainty and a balanced use of the Class Action in Italy.