Court rules Austria cannot be held liable for early COVID infection at ski resort

BERLIN (AP) — An Austrian federal court ruled Thursday that the state could not be held responsible for a COVID-19 infection following an outbreak at an alpine ski resort as the pandemic hit Europe early of 2020.

The Supreme Court of Justice has announced its verdict in a long legal battle involving a German resident who traveled to Ischgl on March 7, 2020 and visited several après-ski venues before returning home six days later. He felt the first symptoms of the coronavirus soon after.

The plaintiff sought damages and a decision that the Austrian federal government was liable for harm caused to it directly or indirectly by errors or failures by authorities related to the “mismanagement” of COVID-19 in the province. Tyrol at the end of February and beginning of March 2020.

The outbreak in Ischgl, a popular seaside resort in western Austria, was considered one of the first “super-spread” events of the pandemic in Europe.

An independent commission concluded in late 2020 that authorities in Tyrol had moved too slowly to close ski resorts after it became clear they were dealing with one of Europe’s first coronavirus outbreaks. But the panel found no evidence that political or business pressure played a role in the decision.

The federal court found that the regional government gave incorrect information in a March 5, 2020 statement suggesting that Icelandic passengers who flew from Munich to Reykjavik and later tested positive had been infected on the plane instead. than in Tyrol. In fact, the court said in its May 15 verdict that authorities had already had an indication that at least one man had developed symptoms before returning home.

However, he said incorrect information would only be grounds for liability if it created a “base of trust” that led people to make the wrong decisions. This was not the case because the statement in question was worded vaguely and in the subjunctive. , noting that the assessment was based on initial information and that further clarifications were ongoing, the court found.

It also upheld lower court findings that authorities’ obligations under anti-epidemic laws were designed “exclusively to protect the general public”.

The legal director of the Austrian Consumer Protection Association, Peter Kolba, said the verdict was “a deep disappointment” for people from 45 countries, some of whom he said “suffered serious damage from the mistakes of the Tyrolean authorities”.

He said in a statement that the association would carefully review the court’s decision and consider further claims for damages against the Austrian state.

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