A ruling handed down by the German Federal High Court in November determined for the first time that penalties imposed on a football club by the DFB based on a fan’s misbehavior can be passed on to the injuring party. Therefore, rioting fans could now be facing large claims for compensations.

The fan’s liability is based on the spectator agreement between him and the club, which obliges him to be considerate of the club’s interest in an undisturbed course of the game. In case of a violation, the disturber is responsible for any damages that are supposed to be avoided by the infringed contractual obligation.

Football clubs are only able to organise a professional football game with the help of a superior association such as the DFB and are held responsible for the spectators’ behavior by it. The infliction of a penalty following the disturbance by a spectator is therefore a consequence that is supposed to be avoided by the agreement and thus not merely an accidental damage.

This ruling provides legal certainty for football clubs. While they have been reluctant in demanding compensations from fans in the past, this ruling might change their attitude regarding the matter. This might also have an impact on the spectators’ safety, since possible future offenders will have to take such recourses into account before causing any damages.

At the same time, it has to be considered that offenders are also punished by general courts regardless of DFB penalties, having to pay damages for pain and suffering. While the costs regarding the penalties are reasonable for football clubs, as they are based on the club’s financial capacity, they could mean financial ruin for private individuals. It is therefore questionable, if such judgements could even be executed.

Therefore, the DFB might have to consider making its system of penalties more transparent, as the amount of damages can’t currently be predicted by potential offenders.

However, the question of the extent, to which the offender will have to cover the costs, was not determined by the BGH, as this will have to be established by the Higher Regional court in each individual case.