The English High Court has ordered companies including ABB, Alstom and Areva to submit their defences to a claim by National Grid Electricity Transmission for £250 million in damages in respect of a cartel in the gasinsulated switchgear market. The court stated that the procedural steps of the damages claim should continue, despite the fact that the defendants are currently appealing to the Court of First Instance against the European Commission’s 2007 decision that they operated a cartel in the relevant market between 1988 and 2004, which resulted in a fine of €750 million being imposed.
The reasoning of the court was that, given the time that has already elapsed since the conduct complained of, the need for the damages claim to be ready for trial as soon as proceedings before the CFI (or, on any subsequent appeal, the European Court of Justice) are concluded outweighs the desire to avoid expenditure that might not be compensated for by a costs award. Accordingly, the defendants are required to submit their defence by late June, followed by the claimant’s replies in late July. The parties will meet during August or September to discuss the scope of disclosure and inspection pending the proceedings before the CFI/ECJ. The defendant’s argument that the claim should be stayed immediately was rejected.
The court’s decision comes a matter of weeks after the Court of Appeal’s ruling that a putative damages claim by victims of a cartel in the animal vitamins market was time-barred. Both of these decisions highlight the importance of limitation periods in respect of cartel damages, and serve as a reminder that cartel victims should give due consideration as early as possible to a potential damages claim even if the cartelist launches an appeal against the finding of a cartel.