Before the introduction of the "azione di classe", forms of collective redress existed under Italian Law with respect to consumer rights and labour law, but they were focused on protecting the collective interests of consumers and workers. They were also limited to injunctive relief.
Italian Law provides for the "azione di classe" (Art. 140-bis Consumer Code). Art. 140-bis establishes that consumers with homogenous interests have the right to file the azione di classe against a private corporation in three different cases: (1) breach of contract, (2) unfair or anticompetitive commercial practice, and (3) product or service liability.
It also provides for the "azione collettiva per l'efficienza delle amministrazioni e dei concessionari di pubblici servizi" (Legislative Decree 20 December 2009, no. 198), which has introduced into the Italian legal system a collective redress mechanism against the inefficiencies of public administration.
According to the Consumer Code, consumers may have standing to file a suit individually or through associations to which they provide with a mandate. After verifying the claimant's right of standing, the judge subsequently focuses on the admissibility of the action. Art. 140-bis Consumer Code states: "the court establishes if there is a conflict of interest, if the main claimant can adequately represent the interests of the class, and if the rights of the proposed class members are homogenous".
When the action is declared admissible, the court specifies the requirements that every consumer should fulfill to be part of the class and sets rules for preliminary investigation.
It is important to highlight that the "azione di classe" is peculiar within Italian civil procedure because the law adopts an opt-in approach. Such a mechanism respects Italian Constitutional principles and rules of civil procedure.
Italian Law admits the participation of foreign claimants. In order to initiate an action, the claimant must first file a complaint with the civil trial court in the capital of the respective region where the corporation's headquarter is based.
Regarding res judicata, the ruling establishes that the trial is binding upon the members. It is made without any prejudice to the single actions brought by individuals who do not join azione di classe.
Consumers may obtain compensation for damages suffered and restitution. No punitive damages are allowed.
Regarding costs, the courts tend to allocate the litigation expenses between the parties, or to apply the general principle of "who loses bear the costs".
The azione di classe requires further legislative intervention. Only a couple of actions have been declared admissible. Indeed, there are several issues that need to be addressed, such as the adequacy of the representative and the costs of the action.
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