There are a number of portals online that promise passengers a quick and easy way to process their claims for compensation from airlines. What pleases the consumer becomes a burden for the judiciary.
The lull in the wake of the corona pandemic is over: mass lawsuits against airlines are once again being lodged with courts at the locations of larger airports. According to the German Association of Judges, the numbers rose by around 40 percent to more than 70,000 cases in 2022 – with an upward trend. Customers usually demand compensation for canceled or delayed flights. With almost 18,000 cases, the district court in Cologne had the highest volume, according to a survey by the “Deutsche Richterzeitung”, to which the association referred.
Frankfurt/Main followed with more than 11,300 and Düsseldorf with almost 9,000 such lawsuits. Behind it is the district court of Königs Wusterhausen, which is responsible for the capital airport BER, with more than 7000 cases. According to District Court Director Stephan Lehmann, the trend is continuing in the current year: Of the total of 2,808 new civil lawsuits, around 90 percent of the cases involve claims from passengers. The majority of these cases are “professionally sued,” said Lehmann.
The judges’ association also sees portals with which passengers can assert their claims quickly and easily as the main reason for the mass lawsuits. Federal Managing Director Sven Rebehn demanded a remedy from politicians. Many civil courts would be partially blocked by mass proceedings, also on the diesel scandal, or by a flood of uniform consumer lawsuits.
Justice is looking for solutions
Rebehn emphasized that in view of the “assembly-line lawsuits” with which law firms and debt collection service providers are heaping many courts, more flexible regulations in civil procedural law are necessary. “Proposals by the judges for meaningful legal changes have been on the table for more than a year,” said Rebehn of the German Press Agency.
The judiciary is also looking for solutions: A software pilot project has been running at the Frankfurt District Court since 2021, which is intended to support the judges in similar cases with text modules and suggestions. After the successful development of the “Frauke” prototype, the procurement of a corresponding AI application is currently underway, the Hessian Ministry of Justice reported on request. However, it is not yet clear when the system, which leaves the final decision to the judge, will be ready for practical use.
According to the Frankfurt district court, flight and travel lawsuits accounted for 44 percent of all new civil cases last year. The average length of proceedings is 5.9 months, as a judicial spokesman said.
Bumpy recovery after the pandemic
After the Corona year 2021, air traffic in Germany increased significantly again last year. The airport association ADV counted 165 million passengers in 2022, a good 110 percent more than in the previous year. At the pre-crisis level of 2019, 34.1 percent of the guests were still missing. Despite the low volume, there were a large number of flight cancellations and delays in the summer because airports, airlines and other service providers had not hired enough qualified staff to restart after the pandemic.
The arbitration board for public transport (SÖP), which customers can contact without a lawyer, also felt the bumpy restart of air transport. In 2022, 25,660 requests for arbitration on air traffic were received, more than twice as many as a year earlier with 12,175 cases, reports the SÖP in its annual report. The share of flight cases in the total application volume was 85 percent. 15,466 flight cases were completed last year. Almost half (43 percent) were about cancellations, 23 percent about delays and 9 percent about baggage problems.