Is your supplier a member of a secret cartel and are you being overcharged? Anti-trust victims have a right to damages if they can prove they have lost out as a result.

There are two reminders today (2 April) of what this means. The European Commission has just imposed fines of over €30 million on four European steel abrasive producers and €302 million on makers of underground and submarine cables. In the first case all but one admitted to being part of a cartel, but agreed to settle the case against them in return for reduced fines. They were accused of illegal price-fixing, and market and customer sharing, meaning customers paid more than they should have.

The law allows anyone who has bought products from the cartel members (users or traders) to seek damages for any losses they have suffered as a result of the illegal cartel (in settlement cases only causation and loss having to be proved as liability is already admitted). In most jurisdictions, traders also face the problem of the ‘passing-on’ defence, meaning they cannot recover insofar as they have passed on the extra costs to their customers.

Any user or trader who is a victim of a cartel enjoys the same rights whatever the product. English courts are becoming increasingly familiar with cartel damages actions, but in other EU states they can be more difficult. An EU directive will shortly be introduced to facilitate such actions across the whole EU, including collective actions by consumers or other groups of buyers affected.