Pal v Damen. A haywire engagement with the consumer, contract section of Brussels Ia.

Pal v Damen & Anor [2022] EWHC 4697 (QB) is another application (compare Clarke v Kalecinski) of Brussels Ia’s consumer section to cosmetic surgery contracts. Respectfully, the analysis is a botched job.

Claims are both in contract and in tort, as is usual in this type of litigation. Jurisdiction on the basis of the consumer title against the Belgium-based surgeon is undisputed, as is the lack of jurisdiction under Article 7(2)’s tort gateway against the clinic where the surgery was performed, locus damni (direct damage, CJEU Marinari) and locus delicti commissi both being in Belgium. The core question is whether there is a contract between surgeon and /or the clinic and the patient, and whether this is a consumer contract.

The second question needs to be determined first. The clinic essentially provides the hardware for the surgeon, but also ensures patient flow via its website http://www.wellnesskliniek.com which without a doubt meets with the  CJEU Pammer /Alpenhof criteria and therefore ‘directs its activities’ towards the UK. Its general terms and conditions, of which it is somewhat disputed that claimant ticked the relevant box, state ia that the clinic ‘is not party to the treatment agreement between the physician and the patient.’ 

The  expert evidence [25] ff centres around Belgian law. Expert for one of the defendants is their Belgian counsel, and Cook M dismisses his report [55] as not meeting relevant CPR requirements on expert evidence. On the basis of the remaining evidence, the judge finds [59]

the Claimant has established a good arguable case for the existence of a contract for medical treatment and /or medical services between her and the Surgeon and accordingly this Court has jurisdiction over that claim. The Claimant has failed to establish a good arguable case for the existence of a contract for medical treatment and /or medical services against the Clinic and accordingly the Court does not have jurisdiction over that claim.

With respect, the direction of analysis is entirely wrong. The first line of enquiry should have been whether there is a consumer contract with either or both of the Belgian parties, and if there is with one, whether the other party could have been caught in its jurisdictional slipstream. Á la Bonnie Lackey but then in the opposite direction: in Bonnie Lackey the question was whether persons in the immediate orbit of the undisputed ‘consumer’-claimant, may also sue under the consumer title. In current case, the question would be whether those in the immediate vicinity of the business-defendant, may be sued under the consumer title. The existence of a consumer contract is entirely an EU law question, not a Belgian law one.

Next, if the decision were taken that at least one of the parties is not caught by the consumer title, the existence of a ‘contract’ (for the provision of ‘services’) under Article 7(1) would be triggered, as would the forum contractus under Article 7(1)a, with an analysis of where the services were or should have been provided. This, too, is an analysis that requires EU law and EU law alone. [There is no trace in the judgment of a choice of court and /or law which for the former per A25 Brussels Ia may require Belgian law, with renvoi, a lex fori prorogati but even then only for the material ‘consent’ issue].

Belgian law does not come into this analysis at all, unless, potentially and most unlikely, one argues that the A7(1) analysis requires the conflicts method, should a contract for medical services not be caught by Article 7(1)’s ‘provision of services’: in that case, Rome I’s decision tree would be required to determine lex contractus and place of performance. Even then however it is not at all certain that Belgian law would be the outcome of Rome I’s matrix.

Geert.

EU Private International Law, 3rd ed. 2021, 2.222 ff, 2.385 ff.

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