A class action law was first enacted in Italy in 2009 (Art. 49 of Law no. 99 of 23 July 2009, hereinafter the "Class Action Law", in force as of 2010). In 2012 the Class Action Law was amended so as to expand its scope and so to protect the contractual rights of a number of consumers and users that find themselves in homogeneous situations (whereas the previous wording required the situations to be identical), still according to an opt-in scheme.
Nevertheless, even after the amendment, the class action has proved, over the years, to be an ineffective instrument. Even if official data are not available, it is well known that to date only 58 class actions1 have been brought before Courts since 2010 and just three of them actually reached a positive outcome for the consumers. The most important are the following:
- the class action against IntesaSanPaolo started in 2014 before the Turin Court by the consumer association Altroconsumo. The Court finally ascertained that some overdraft charges applied by the bank were unlawful and sentenced the latter to give them back to the account holders. However, due to the some formal issues as regards the joining deeds, only 6 consumers were finally compensated.
- The action started by some consumers seeking compensation for damages suffered a result of the cancellation of a holiday package. The Naples Court sentenced the tour operator Wecantur to pay € 3,600 for each consumer, but at the end nobody got his/her money, as Wecantur went bankrupt.
The common problem with class actions lays with the requisite that consumers have to be in a homogeneous situation. Based on that, most of the class actions have been dismissed in a very preliminary stage as found to be not admissible under the Class Action Law. This was the case, for example, of some class actions with a potential huge impact, as those started versus the State owned broadcasting company (RAI TV), the navigation companies Moby and Snav, and the railway company active in Lombardia, Trenord.
Recently, the Italian consumer associations scored a good point for a class action brought against Volkswagen about the well known case concerning the falsification of pollution tests of the diesel vehicles. Last June 16, 2016 the Venice Appeal Court, by reversing a previous decision of the Venice First Degree Court, admitted the class action concerning the Volkswagen vehicle model Golf 1.6 HDI and opened the possibility for further consumers to join the action. Late in 2015, the Turing First Degree Court had decreed the same outcome for the class action started still by Altroconsumo against Fiat, as regards the falsification of the pollution tests of the vehicle Panda third series 1.2. So far more than 20,000 consumers joined this last class action, which is currently going through the merits stage.
Clearly, the main problems with the Class Action Law over past years laid with the strict requisites concerning both the definition of the enforceable rights, which needs to be homogeneous, and the availability of the action to consumers only.
In 2015 the Italian government promoted a crucial reform of the Class Action Law, which should become available to professionals, to enforce any, contractual or non-contractual, homogeneous rights, which are now defined in a less strict way. Such a reform has been approved by the House of Representatives and is currently in wait for the final green light by the Senate.
It is common opinion that this new law should provide a strong impulse to the class action in the future.