Travel law and delayed trains: The European Court of Justice has handed down a judgment on passengers’ rights to a refund where trains are delayed by events beyond the train operators’ control. Passengers are entitled to receive a partial refund of the ticket price (26.09.2013 case ref.: C-509/11).
Travel law: refund for delayed trains
Under international and EU law, train passengers are entitled to compensation for delayed trains, if their journey cannot reasonably be continued on the same day. Train operators are however relieved of this obligation, if the delay is caused by events beyond their control. In legal circles these are called force majeure events and include heavy snow fall, flooding, avalanches or strikes.
EU law also stipulates that passengers are entitled to a refund of the ticket price where trains are delayed for an hour or more. Here passengers are entitled to seek a refund of 25%. A delay of two hours or more entitles passengers to seek a refund of at least 50% of the ticket price. The EU rules contain no explicit exemption from the obligation on train companies to pay compensation in the case force majeure events.
Austria’s national rail operator, the ÖBB, brought the court action after being required by Austria’s national rail supervisory authority to modify a clause in its national conditions of carriage which excluded the reimbursement of ticket prices for delayed trains in force majeure cases.
The case was referred to the ECJ by Austria’s Administrative Court which sought assistance on the interpretation of the applicable legal provisions.
The European Court of Justice ruled that the EU’s provisions on compensation for delayed trains do not contain an exemption in force majeure event. Passengers are therefore entitled to receive a partial refund of the ticket price even if a train is delayed by events beyond the control of the train company.
No additional compensation
The ECJ judges explained that there is a difference between the compensatory rules under EU and international law. Train operators are required under EU only to refund the price of tickets. They are not obliged to pay compensation for additional costs incurred. This means, for example, that train operators will not be forced under EU law to pay for overnight hotel costs or to reimburse the cost of missed connection flights. Under international law, however, passengers may be able to bring a claim for additional compensation relating to other elements of damage or loss incurred.
The decision of the European Court of Justice applies to train operators only and different rules apply to air, ship and coach operators.
For consumers and train operators in the EU, the ECJ’s ruling brings legal certainty.
If you have been affected by a delayed train, contact our team of expert German lawyers for assistance.