Claim for damage requires negligence (Fahrlässigkeit)

Under German law, damages can in principle only be claimed if the debtor is at least negligent. This also applies to claims for damages contractually agreed in real estate purchase agreements, in particular due to delayed completion of the object of purchase. Negligence only exists if the damage could have been avoided if the debtor had acted in a dutiful manner and the occurrence of the damage was not completely improbable but foreseeable.

Differences between criminal law and civil law

in criminal law, guilt means that the individual person is held responsible according to an individual standard. In civil law, however, negligence is subject to an objective and abstract standard. This means that in an individual case the debtor may not have foreseen the damage and it was not avoidable for him, but that if general standards were applied an average debtor could have avoided the damage and could have foreseen it.

The necessary care in individual cases

Although the focus is not on the individual person, but objective and abstract standards apply, in practice a differentiation is made at least according to the so-called relevant trade circles (Verkehrskreise), compare Bundesgerichtshof NJW 1972, page 151. This means that the usual safety precautions in the relevant trade circles are certainly important, although what is possible does not necessarily have to be objectively or scientifically sufficient.

The recourse to third parties

If the debtor has acted as recommended to him by competent specialists, he is not acting negligently, BGH NJW 1971, page 1882. however, this applies only if and to the extent that the debtor, on his own responsibility, has correctly interpreted the assessment of a competent specialist. The risks of a wrong application or wrong interpretation of expert knowledge or the overstretching of the validity of an expert opinion are at the debtor’s expense.

the so-called public

in the so-called public, in particular, different professional groups are to be distinguished, for example, the public of the ordinary businessman, the ordinary medical specialist, the master craftsman or also of the builder-owner. The age group may also play a role. For example, the standards of care for children and young people must be specified in particular, BGH NJW 1970, page 1038. Individual responsibility and management functions also play a role. The standards of due diligence for executive employees are higher than those to be applied to subordinate employees, BGH NJW 1988, page 48.

Legal advice on the purchase of property in Germany

I offer you affordable legal advice in English language in connection with the purchase of a property in Germany. I check the notarial draft of the purchase contract for you. You will find further details and useful links on the page Advice on German Real Estate Law

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Alexander Meier-Greve ist Rechtsanwalt in Berlin. Der Artikel ist aus der täglichen Beratungspraxis des Autors entstanden. Er soll nützliche Überblicksinformationen liefern, kann allerdings eine einzelfallbezogene Beratung nicht ersetzen.

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