Director’s Duties and Liabilities under German Law

What are the Duties of Directors of German Companies (GmbH) and Corporations (Aktiengesellschaft)?

Obviously, pretty much all over the world, company directors and CEO’s have a general duty to be loyal, diligent and conscientious in managing the affairs of their company. This is also the case under German law. Directors and CEOs have to bear in mind what is best for the business and act accordingly. In this regard, German courts do apply an objective standard that does not, as a rule, depend on the specific knowledge, education, experience and abilities of the individual director. In other words: If someone takes on the job of a company director, he or she must be up to the requirements. In practice this means, that – depending on the size of the company – the director must hire and supervise qualified staff or outside consultants.

According to German case law, a company director has wide-ranging discretionary powers with regard to how to manage the company. This includes the power to take entrepreneurial decisions, even daring ones (entrepreneurial risk). Always provided, however, that the director carefully assesses the related risks before making such decisions. Under German law, actions (or inactivity) outside the limits of reasonable entrepreneurial conduct or violation of specific director’s duties may result in personal liability of the company director. The major difference between the director of a German Gesellschaft mit beschränkter Haftung (GmbH) and the CEO of a German Aktiengesellschaft is that the GmbH director must always obey the instructions of the shareholders. A vote of the shareholders (Gesellschafterbeschluss) is binding on the company director. In contrast, a CEO (Vorstand) of a German Aktiengesellschaft has much more leeway. The CEO (or the board of executors) manages the corporation as they themselves deem is best:

Section German 76  para. 1 German Stock Corporation Act states: 
Management of the stock corporation: The management board is to manage the affairs of the company on its own responsibility.

 

For example, directors (CEO’s) have an obligation under the German Stock Corporation Act (Aktiengesetz) to protect the company from financial penalties, losses and other financial harm. In their function as trustees of the company’s assets, company directors owe strict fiduciary duties. The Stock Corporation Act also provides for a number of specific duties, including those relating to the maintenance of registered share capital, bookkeeping, and the organization of the company. Finally, directors are also subject to numerous reporting requirements (including a duty to keep the securities market informed and updated) as well as strict confidentiality obligations.

Directors’ Liabilities under German Law

As a rule, only the company is liable towards outside parties, not the individual director or CEO. In other words: Third parties can rarely sue a company director directly for damages or compensation. The company is responsible for the (illegal or damaging) actions or omissions of their dirctors and CEOs. As a consequence, if a director causes financial damage by deliberately or negligently breaching their duty, the company can (and in most cases must) take internal recourse (Regress) against the director / CEO. A simple majority at the annual general meeting can force the company to seek internal recourse against a director. In such recourse proceedings (Regressanspruch), the director must prove that he or she has obeserved the relevant standard of care (Sorgfalt eines ordentlichen Geschäftsführers). The company only needs to demonstrate that it has suffered damages as a result of the actions of the director.

In exceptional circumstances, creditors of the company may bring a direct claim against a director. German statutory law permits bringing direct actions against a director where:

  • a company is unable to satisfy a claim arising from a violation of a duty by a director;
  • a company becomes insolvent and a director delayed the initiation of insolvency proceedings causing damage to the creditor; or
  • he is liable under tort law for a serious breach of duty or for a violation of legal provisions that protect certain individuals of groups of people, such as criminal provisions concerning fraudulent or false representation of the company’s affairs.

In German courts, successful direct claims have been brought against directors based on tort law where, for example, directors have deliberately published incorrect inside information. German court decisions of the last 10 to 15 years show a tendency by the courts to expand the scope of direct tort liability of directors.

For more on German business and corporate law see these posts:

More information on litigation and legal fees in Germany is available in these posts:

Litigation Costs in Germany: Basic Principles and an Online Cost Calculator

By German Litigation Expert Bernhard H. Schmeilzl, LL.M. (Leicester), admitted to the Munich Bar and qualified to represent clients in Courts of Law throughout Germany

Court fees (Gerichtskosten) in Germany are based on the value of the claim (Streitwert or Gegenstandswert). The same is true for lawyers fees (Anwaltsgebühren) which are regulated by statutory law, the so called Rechtsanwaltsvergütungsgesetz (RVG). We have explained the details of litigation costs in German civil proceedings in this post:

How expensive is a German Lawsuit?

Here are some actual figures (based on the court fee table as of December 2017):

  • If claimant A sues defendant B for payment of EUR 50,000, the claimant must pay court fees of EUR 1,638.
  • If A sues B for EUR 2m, the court fees are EUR 26,800.

The German litigation financing company FORIS offers an English language version of a litigation cost calculator here.

The full court fee must be paid in at the same time the claimant files the “Klageschrift” (statement of claim). Until the court fee is fully paid, the German court will not serve the offocial court papers to the defendant. Thus, a delay in payment to the court can have catastrophic results if a claim is about to become statute barred.

If, at any time during the German civil lawsuit, the parties come to a settlement, the court fees are reduced by 2/3. This is meant to be an incentive for the parties to settle. Also, it reflects the fact that the judge does not have to write a judgement (Urteil). At the same time, the respective litigation lawyers earn a so called settlement fee (Vergleichsgebühr), which is also an incentive to come to an amicable solution.

Under German law, the winning party is entitled to full compensation for the statutory legal fees. However, experienced litigation experts in Germany are usually not willing to work for the statutory fees alone. They will usually ask for higher fees. Such additional fees are then not recoverable from the opponent.

More information on litigation and legal fees in Germany is available in these posts:

For more on German business and corporate law see these posts:

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Experts on German-British and German-American Legal Matters

Since 2003, the German business and corporate law firm Graf Partners LLP specialises in British-German and US-German legal cases. Our German business and corporate lawyers are native speaker level fluent in English, have many years of practical experience with clients from Britiain and the USA and are part of a well established network of law, tax and accounting firms.

Managing partner Bernhard Schmeilzl was admitted as German Rechtsanwalt (attorney at law) to the Munich Bar in 2001 and specialises in international cases ever since, with a focus on German-American and German-English commercial, corporate and also probate cases. In addition to obtaining his German legal exams with distinction, he also graduated from the English University of Leicester where he obtained his Master of Laws degree in EU Commercial Law in 2003.

In 2014, Graf Partners LLP has set up the international litigation department GP Chambers which focuses on providing professional litigation services to British and US-American clients, both on a commercial and a private client level. The Graf Partners litigation lawyers regularly appear before German law Courts throughout the country and provide specialist legal advice, support and advocacy services in all commercial and civil law matters, ranging from contract disputes, corporate litigation and employment, to damage claims, divorces and contentious probate. If you wish us to advise or represent you in a German or cross border case, or if you need an expert report on German law, please call +49 941 463 7070.

Forensic Accountant for Business Litigation in Germany

You need to understand German company accounts?

In order to win a business or corporate law suit, understanding the numbers is often equally important as knowing the legal aspects of the case. The same is true if you plan to acquire a German business. Thus, the German-British litigation lawyers as well as the M&A experts at Graf & Partners (www.grafegal.com) regularly team up with German forensic accountant Hermann Werle.

Hermann obtained his degree in business administration from Regensburg UAS in 1982. Throughout his 25 year career he then worked as inhouse accountant, head of controlling, CFO and company director / CEO for renowned German and international companies and was involved in a number of mergers including Mallinckrodt, Sherwood Davis & Geck and U.S.-Surgical. Thus, Hermann gained a wealth of professional experience in various industrial sectors. While his core competence is finance, he also has practical experience in HR, IT, purchasing, warehousing and distribution.

In 2014, Hermann set up his own financial consultancy firm and provides professional advice to German and international firms, often in collaboration with the German and British litigation lawyers of Graf & Partners. His main focus is on the areas:

  • forensic accounting in cross-border litigation cases and
  • German-British and German-American merger & acquisition deals (financial due diligence)

We have worked with Hermann Werle on dozens of business litigation cases as well as international mergers. Our German as well as our international clients have always been extremely impressed by his skills, in particular his ability to break down and explain the most complex situations to non-accountants, i.e. to litigation lawyers and judges.

More information on litigation and legal fees in Germany is available in these posts:

For more on German business and corporate law see these posts:

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Experts on German-British and German-American Legal Matters

Since 2003, the German business and corporate law firm Graf Partners LLP specialises in British-German and US-German legal cases. Our German business and corporate lawyers are native speaker level fluent in English, have many years of practical experience with clients from Britiain and the USA and are part of a well established network of law, tax and accounting firms.

Managing partner Bernhard Schmeilzl was admitted as German Rechtsanwalt (attorney at law) to the Munich Bar in 2001 and specialises in international cases ever since, with a focus on German-American and German-English commercial, corporate and also probate cases. In addition to obtaining his German legal exams with distinction, he also graduated from the English University of Leicester where he obtained his Master of Laws degree in EU Commercial Law in 2003.

In 2014, Graf Partners LLP has set up the international litigation department GP Chambers which focuses on providing professional litigation services to British and US-American clients, both on a commercial and a private client level. The Graf Partners litigation lawyers regularly appear before German law Courts throughout the country and provide specialist legal advice, support and advocacy services in all commercial and civil law matters, ranging from contract disputes, corporate litigation and employment, to damage claims, divorces and contentious probate. If you wish us to advise or represent you in a German or cross border case, or if you need an expert report on German law, please call +49 941 463 7070.

Pursuing Legal Action in Germany?

You found the German law firm perfectly equipped to address your legal needs in Germany

Since 2003, German law firm Graf & Partners specialises in providing legal advice and litigation services to British and American clients. The majority of our clients come from Britain, the USA or other English speaking countries and are in need of pursuing a legal matter in Germany. If you need a competent and trustworthy attorney anywhere in Germany, our experienced contract lawyers and bilingual litigators will be happy to assist.

The firm’s managing partner Bernhard Schmeilzl and several other lawyers in our litigation team have studied and worked in the USA and/or Britain. As a result, Graft & Partners have established a unique and impressive international legal practice, which focuses specifically on British-German and German-American legal cases and issues. Our Anglo-German lawyer team is headed by British and Canadian citizen Elissa Jelowicki, a qualified English solicitor, and Registered European Lawyer, admitted to the Munich Bar Association. Therefore, foreign clients and instructing lawyers from the UK and America are able to discuss their specific case with a native English speaker, who also knows the English legal system.

Our German and British litigation lawyers appear before German law Courts throughout the country and are also experienced in (Commercial) Arbitration and Alternative Dispute Resolution. We provide specialist legal advice, support and forensic services in all commercial and civil law matters, ranging from contract disputes, corporate litigation and employment, to damage claims and contentious probate. In addition, our family law experts deal with international divorces and child custody matters. In relation to other legal areas, e.g. criminal law or tax, we will be happy to recommend qualified German lawyers from other chambers, who are also fluent in English.

On a regular basis, we speak on German-American and British-German legal issues at lawyer conventions and at in-house events of international companies and law firms. See here for some of the topics we have spoken on recently:

More information on litigation and legal fees in Germany is available in these posts:

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Call the experts on German-British and German-American legal matters

Since 2003, the German law firm Graf Partners LLP with its headquarters in Munich specialises in British-German and US-German legal cases. Our German lawyers are fluent in English, have many years of practical experience with clients from Britiain and the USA and are part of a well established network of law, tax and accounting firms.

Bernhard Schmeilzl_crop1Managing partner Bernhard Schmeilzl was admitted as German Rechtsanwalt (attorney at law) to the Munich Bar in 2001 and specialises in international cases ever since, especially German-American and German-English commercial and probate cases. In addition to obtaining his German legal exams with distinction, he also graduated from the English University of Leicester where he obtained his Master of Laws degree in EU Commercial Law in 2003. 

In 2014, Graf Partners LLP has set up the international litigation department GP Chambers which focuses on providing professional litigation services to British and US-American clients, both on a commercial and a private client level. The Graf Partners litigation lawyers regularly appear before German law Courts throughout the country and provide specialist legal advice, support and advocacy services in all commercial and civil law matters, ranging from contract disputes, corporate litigation and employment, to damage claims, divorces and contentious probate. If you wish us to advise or represent you in a German or cross border case, or if you need an expert report on German law, please call +49 941 463 7070.

Putting Someone on Speaker Phone without telling them?

In their piece about Speakerphone Etiquette, The Huffington Post recommends:

“Always ask the person on the other end of the line if he or she minds being put on the speakerphone. Some people find them annoying and invasive.”

This is excellent advice, especially if you speak to Germans on the phone. Why so? Because a German might not only be annoyed to find out that somehas has secretly listened in on the phone conversation. Instead, he or she might even press criminal charges, because under German law, putting someone on speaker phone (without telling them first and getting their consent) may consitute a criminal offence. Section 201 German Criminal Code protects the privacy of the non-publicly spoken word. Taping a phone call without the other party’s consent (which can easily be done with any modern smart phone nowadays) is even worse.

But even if such eavesdropping is not found to be a crime under certain circumstances, both putting someone on speakerphone without telling them first and listening in on such a phone conversation does constitute a violation of German civil laws (tort) and data protection regulations. As a consequence, someone who has secretly listened in on a phone conversation, is not allowed to appear as a witness on what he or she has heard in a German court of law. civil lawsuit. Thus, the (bad) habit of having a co-worker or one’s spouse covertly listen in on a phoen call to “have a witness for what the other party has said” is not only rude, but also dangerous and useless in regards to creating evidence. Furthermore, you can end up with a costly cease and desist order.

There are exceptional circumstances when putting someone on speaker without disclosing this fact to the other party is allowed under German law, for example when there is reason to believe that the other party may insult or threaten the caller, speak about a crime etc. Or when the other party knows from previous calls that speaker phones are typically used and the caller has never objected to this in the past.

For more information about German law, in particular civil litigation in Germany see these posts:

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The law firm Graf & Partners was established in 2003 and has many years of experience with British-German and US-German legal matters.The Anglo-German litigation lawyer team of GP Chambers is well equipped to advise and represent clients from the UK and other English speaking countries. If you wish us to advise or represent you in a German or cross border case, or if you need an expert report on German law, please call +49 941 463 7070 in order to contact German lawyer Bernhard Schmeilzl, LL.M. (Leicester), managing partner and head of the litigation department. Bernhard is also frequently asked by British and US Courts and Tribunals or by legal counsels to provide expert reports and legal opinions on German law.

English Speaking German Lawyers and Litigators based in Munich

Experienced German Legal Counsel for British and American Clients

Since 2003, the German law firm Graf Partners LLP with its headquarters in Munich specialises in British-German and US-German legal cases. Not only are the German lawyers at GP fluent in the English language, but they have many years of practical experience gained by working for commercial and private clients from Britain and the USA. From conveyancing of German property, drafting international agreements, representing foreign clients in German courtrooms and preparing expert reports and legal opinions on German law for British and American courts. We know what English and American clients expect from their German legal counsel. We do not simply explain the German law but we focus on the – sometimes very significant – differences, especially when it comes to German civil procedure rules.

Bernhard Schmeilzl_crop1Managing partner Bernhard Schmeilzl was admitted as German Rechtsanwalt (attorney at law) to the Munich Bar in 2001 and specialises in international cases ever since, especially German-American and German-English commercial and probate cases. In addition to obtaining his German legal exams with distinction, he also graduated from the English University of Leicester where he obtained his Master of Laws degree in EU Commercial Law in 2003. But do not mistake Bernhard for a German lawyer who focuses merely on German-British legal matters.

While Bernhard is well acquainted with the ways of English solicitors and barristers and their respective ways to go about a case, he is even better equipped to team up with United States attorneys at law. And this is not just from from watching the TV series Suits or Better call Saul (which he does), for that matter. Bernhard has lived, studied, coached baseball and worked in the USA on a number of occasions. His history of extended stays in the United States goes back as far as 1990 and 1993, when George Bush (the father) was President. Bernhard can therefore rely on a network of friends and business partners across the USA, especially in New York and New Jersey as well as in California.

In 2014, Graf Partners LLP has set up the international litigation department GP Chambers which focuses on providing professional litigation services to British and US-American clients, both on a commercial and a private client level. The Graf Partners litigation lawyers regularly appear before German law Courts throughout the country and provide specialist legal advice, support and advocacy services in all commercial and civil law matters, ranging from contract disputes, corporate litigation and employment, to damage claims, divorces and contentious probate.

So, if you need a German lawyer who did not just have English in school, but who really speaks your language and knows where you are coming from, contact the experts on German-American and German-British law:

gp-logoa German limited liability partnership of German lawyers admitted to the Munich Bar Association (Rechtsanwaltskammer) with the right to represent clients in all courts of law throughout Germany, registered with the District Court Munich, Partnership Register Nr. 438, represented by its managing partners Bernhard Schmeilzl and Katrin Groll.

Our central switchboard number in Germany is: +49 (0) 941 463 7070

For more information about civil litigation in Germany see these posts:

For more information on cross border probate matters and international will preparation see the below posts by the international succession law experts of Graf & Partners LLP:

More information on buying property in Germany, the German Land Registry, the German conveyancing process and the rights and duties of tenants and landlords in Germany is available in these posts:

No Win No Fee Agreements are Void in Germany

No win no fee agreements (contingency fees) between a client and lawyer are prohibited under German law. This has always been the tradition of German law (more here). The reasoning behind this rule is that German lawyers shall not undercut each other, because this would lead to poorly financed law offices providing very poor services to their clients. Also, German lawyers shall not be under the influence of undue incentives, i.e. trying to win a case no matter what including tampering with evidence, influencing witnesses etc. Continue reading

You keep your Eyes on the Ball…

… while we’ll keep ours on the law for you

The German-British Sport Law Experts of Graf & Partners specialise in drafting and negotiating athletics agreements, sponsoring and endorsement deals, sports related litigation and sports event agreements. We consult sports federations, professional sports clubs, major event sponsors and individual professional athletes from many different sports, including football (soccer), ice hockey, golf, baseball, motor sports and winter sports. Since, nowadays, sports law is essentially business law, our sports lawyer team includes experienced corporate, contract and intellectual property lawyers qualified in Germany and England. Head of the sports law department is Bernhard Schmeilzl, who is an international business lawyer called to the bar in 2001 and who has 30 years of experience as a sports manager, arbitrator and coach. He is currently advising English football teams on how to secure unrestricted access to EU football players in spite of the recent Brexit decision.

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The law firm Graf & Partners and its German-English litigation department GP Chambers was established in 2003 and has many years of experience with British-German and US-German business and corporate matters, including the representation of professional sports organisations and professional athletes. If you need legal advice or representation do not hesitate to contact our German-British law firm by calling +49 941 463 7070

Expert Reports on German Law

As a full service German and English law firm, established in 2003, we are often asked to provide English Law Firms with an expert report based on issues of German Law.

Solicitor_SchmeilzlBernhard Schmeilzl, a bilingual Lawyer who qualified in 2001 (admitted to the Munich Bar) and is able to provide expert reports to be used in English litigation and arbitration cases based on various issues of German law, whether it be Civil, Commercial or Criminal law, including procedural aspects . Not only does he have a very good grasp of the English Civil Procedure Rules on expert reports, but he also has a vast experience of working closely with Solicitors and Barristers within England. Bernhard has prepared reports for all types of law firms in England, from Magic Circle firms to regional firms, including the following areas:

  • Corporate and commercial law disputes between British and German businesses;
  • Contentious probate matters around the validity of German wills;
  • Accidents involving British citizens in Germany (personal injury, tort); and
  • Medical malpractice cases involving German GP’s and hospitals

In case you need an expert report from a German Solicitor please do not hesitate to call us on +49 (0) 463 7070. More information on litigation and legal fees in Germany is available in these posts:

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The law firm Graf & Partners and its German-English litigation department GP Chambers was established in 2003 and has many years of experience with British-German and US-German business and corporate matters, including the representation of clients in M&A transactions. If you wish us to advise or represent you please call German business and litigation lawyer Bernhard Schmeilzl, LL.M. (Leicester) or Munich based English solicitor Elissa Jelowicki on +49 941 463 7070.

German Law of Torts: Are Accident Victims entitled to a New House?

Can a disabled injured person claim for the predicted cost of accommodation or only the actual costs after they have been incurred?

Under German law, a person who is impaired by an accident is entitled to adequate housing. The extent and amount necessary for adequate housing depends on what an impaired person would reasonably require. This can be determined by an expert, who will be appointed by a German court.

However, a difficult and strongly debated question under German law of torts is whether the injured person may only claim compensation for costs he or she has actually incurred (reimbursement approach) or whether the injured person is entitled to request a lump sum payment for necessary measures, even if actual costs have not (yet) been incurred, based on sec. 843 (3) German Civil Code (for details see German Supreme Court ruling of 19 May 1981, published in NJW 1982, p. 575; also see Münchner Kommentar zum BGB, Band 5, Auflage 6, § 842, Rd. 66 and Rd. 77).

Those in favour of the “lump sum approach” argue that German law does accept the concept of so called “fiktive Pflegekosten” (fictitious costs for home help), i.e. the market value of such home help (usually between EUR 7 and EUR 10 per hour, depending on the cost of living in the area where the Claimant lives) must be paid by the injurer regardless of whether the injured person actually hires paid help or whether a relative or friend provides such help without remuneration. Thus, costs which are objectively necessary for modifying an existing or buying another house must also be compensated by the wrongdoer, regardless of whether and when the impaired person actually incurs these costs.

The mainstream opinion amongst German litigation lawyers seems to be, however, that under German law, notional costs cannot be claimed. Consequently, a Claimant can only request reimbursement of the amounts he or she has actually spent on housing (repair, modification, new purchase etc). This view is supported by legal literature (e.g. Gerhard Küppersbusch “Ersatzansprüche bei Personenschaden” [“Claims in the case of personal injury”] 10th edition 2010) as well as by case law (Higher Regional Court Hamm, ruling published in VersR 2003, 780).

So, what actual costs can an impaired person claim under German law of torts? Here are some examples:

  • If a new apartment is rented, which better suits the individual’s needs, then the additional rental costs must be reimbursed. It may get difficult, however, if this new apartment has additional advantages (e.g. more rooms for other family members). Then, there may be a reduction.
  • In case an existing house is remodelled to meet the special requirements of an impaired person, the reasonable and adequate remodelling costs must be reimbursed. The above re-additional advantages does apply here as well: modification of a house or flat usually leads to an increased value of the same, which then again must be set off (this was also discussed in the Supreme Court ruling of 1981)
  • In case a new house is built or another house is bought, a German court would verify whether the impaired person has obeyed his duty to keep the damage at a minimum (obligation to mitigate losses), i.e. if it would have been less cost-intensive to rent an adequate house, especially since leasing an apartment or even a house is much more common in Germany than it is in the UK. However, even if the Court is convinced that buying or building another house was necessary, then it is very difficult to calculate the exact amount which must be compensated by the injurer, because this new house will often have a higher value. This extra value of the new house compared to the previous house is not recoverable and must be deducted from the claim. Thus, one must differentiate between the increase of value and the necessary and reasonable costs caused by the accident. These are difficult issues which usually involve a number of experts.

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The law firm Graf & Partners was established in 2003 and has many years of experience with British-German and US-German legal matters.The Anglo-German litigation lawyer team of GP Chambers is well equipped to advise and represent clients from the UK and other English speaking countries. If you wish us to advise or represent you in a German or cross border case, or if you need an expert report on German law, please contact German lawyer Bernhard Schmeilzl, LL.M. (Leicester), managing partner and head of the litigation department. Bernhard is also frequently asked by British and US Courts and Tribunals or by legal counsels to provide expert reports and legal opinions on German law.