Terms and Conditions more important than slogans

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Reading the fine print is still crucial when signing a contract

Advertisements are often the reason for customers to conclude a contract, but the general terms and conditions (GTC) are legally binding, in which the promising advertising offers are often restricted or even revoked. The Munich District Court published a corresponding final judgment on Monday. The proceedings concerned the terms and conditions and advertising promises of a private health insurance company. (Az .: 261 C 25225/10)

The applicant demanded the promised premium refund. When concluding contracts, consumers should therefore always study the general terms and conditions carefully and not be fooled by the promotional offers. A woman had brought an action before the Munich District Court, changing her health insurance at the beginning of 2009 and convincing herself of the promise of reimbursement of contributions after years of non-performance. Based on the advertising promise in a brochure on the reimbursement of three monthly contributions after the first benefit-free year, the plaintiff concluded a corresponding health insurance contract and requested a corresponding reimbursement after one year without benefits. This was promptly denied to her by the insurance company with reference to the terms and conditions. The general terms and conditions of the contract stipulated that the insurer determines the reimbursement of premiums annually and also decides how high the reimbursement in the individual tariffs is. The woman felt deceived and filed a lawsuit with the Munich District Court to nevertheless enforce the promised reimbursement of three monthly contributions.

Promotional offers by health insurance providers without legal obligation In its verdict, however, the Munich District Court points out that the promises made by the advertising brochures alone do not entitle the holder to a premium refund. Rather, the contractual terms and the general terms and conditions are binding, which expressly refer to the insurance company's right to determine the reimbursement of premiums. As a "sensible consumer", the woman should have expected that the advertising promises could be specified or limited in the terms and conditions, according to the court. In addition, the prospectus contained a reference to the general terms and conditions as the basis of the insurance protection and the contractual conditions were available to the applicant for inspection when it was signed. According to the Munich District Court, reading the contractual terms and the general terms and conditions is entirely reasonable. Consumers are obliged to read the details of this contract by reading it, because the conditions set out here are also legally binding (as long as they do not violate other laws).

Consumers need to be well informed, however, promotional offers can not be understood as binding contractual offers, but only serve to initiate a business, the court said. The Munich District Court dismissed the woman's complaint at the beginning of February with the reasons given. The judgment that has now been published is final, but should be seen as a defeat for consumers. Certainly not every advertising slogan can be traded at face value, but with such clear statements as about the reimbursement of contributions in the case of the applicant, a legally binding effect seemed at least questionable. Ultimately, however, consumers are not spared the thorough inspection of the small print when the contract is signed. (fp)

Image: Axel Hoffmann / pixelio.de

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