Article 38 - Consumer protection
Key facts of the case:
Plaintiff – mobile network provider - seeks to annul the judgment of the first distance court that did not confirm its right to request its contractual penalty from the defendant. The contractual penalty was included as a flat amount in the General Contractional Terms, included in the appendix to the contract on providing telecommunication services between the mobile network provider and the customer. According to the plaintiff, the provision on the contractual penalty became active after the defendant failed to pay the bills for the use of the mobile services and monthly installments for the cell phone.
According to the court, the provision on the contractual fine was inacceptable. The Court argued that it created unequal contractual relationship between the service provider and consumers, disadvantaging the latter. The court argued that the flat rate of the fine’s amount did not take into consideration already made payments during the duration of the contract. The court pointed out that the defendant during the duration of the contract already contributed in monthly installments payments towards the price of the cell phone. Moreover, according to the court, such flat rate fine was higher than the actual debt.
The court noted that the contractual penalty was inacceptable. The Court argued: „If the Court would accept fulfilment from the unacceptable contractual conditions, it would tolerate the ongoing illegal activity by the court and ignore important interests of the EU and laws of the EU protecting rights of the consumers “. The Court relied on the following provisions:
Key legal question raised by the Court:
Whether flat contractual penalty set out in the standard customer contract disadvantaged costumers in relation to the service provider. The court clarified whether such flat rate penalty should be considered as void.
Outcome of the case:
The court decided that the contractual penalty was unacceptable and the defendant was not obliged to pay beyond the agreed actual debt and agreed interest.
The court confirmed the ruling of the first instance court and awarded the plaintiff the right to seek reimbursement only of the actual debt and interests, not the standard contractual penalty.
“17. Contractual penalty was not individually agreed on, it is a standard contract that creates major disproportion in rights and obligation of contractual parties, disadvantaging customer, it is in conflict with the protection of customer rights, in conflict with the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union (art 38), according to which to fulfil one of the fundamental rights of the European union, state policies shall ensure high standard of customer protection, and thus it is possible to use all effective means to protect consumers to increase the trust of the consumers into the market that should not burden consumers with unreasonable practices. The plaintiff, making business on the electronic communication market has the expert dominance over consumers, to whom it offers services, and thus it is reasonable to expect that it treats customers with due professional care.”
“17. Zmluvná pokuta, ktorá nebola individuálne dojednaná, lebo sa jedná o štandardnú typovú zmluvu, a ktorá spôsobuje hrubú nerovnováhu v právach a povinnostiach zmluvných strán v neprospech spotrebiteľa, je v rozpore s ochranou práv spotrebiteľa, ako aj v rozpore s Chartou základných práv Európskej únie (art. 38), podľa ktorého v záujme naplnenia jedného zo základných práv Európskej únie politiky štátov je zabezpečiť vysoký stupeň ochrany spotrebiteľa, a preto je potrebné využiť všetky efektívne prostriedky ochrany spotrebiteľa, aby sa zvyšovala dôvera spotrebiteľov v trh, aby neprimerané postupy spotrebiteľov na trhu nezaťažovali. Žalobca ako osoba podnikajúca na trhu elektronických komunikácií má odbornú prevahu nad spotrebiteľmi, ktorým svoje služby poskytuje, a preto možno od neho očakávať, že vo vzťahu k spotrebiteľom sa bude správať s náležitou odbornou starostlivosťou.”