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Long Covid: German Ischgl tourist demanded 90,000 euros in civil proceedings

A vacationer sues the Republic of Austria for damages.

© APA / EXPA / JOHANN GRODER

Vienna, Ischgl – The next oral hearing of an official liability suit against the Republic of Austria took place on Thursday at the Vienna Regional Court for Civil Law Matters in the Ischgl case. A German vacationer who was in the Paznaun Valley in March 2020 and infected with the corona virus had sued. He has since suffered from Long Covid and sued for around 90,000 euros in damages. The proceedings were concluded after just under an hour, and a judgment is given in writing.

Reacts too late

The allegations of not having reacted quickly after the first corona infections occurred in Ischgl are directed against representatives of individual Tyrolean tourism companies and tourism organizations as well as against representatives of the Austrian health authorities at all relevant levels such as the federal government, the state of Tyrol, the district of Landeck and the municipality of Ischgl it in the plaintiff. The man from Baden-Württemberg, who traveled to Vienna especially for the negotiation, moved into Galtür’s quarters in the afternoon on March 5, 2020, but also visited the apres-ski bar “Kitzloch” in Ischgl, where numerous holidaymakers were infected should have. Two days later, a waiter at the restaurant tested positive for the virus.

The consumer protection association (VSV) has filed a lawsuit on behalf of the man. So far, 6,000 people affected have reported to the VSV. Negotiations on possible out-of-court solutions have so far been rejected by the financial procurator. The SAAM ultimately assumes 3,000 potential plaintiffs. There are currently around 20 lawsuits filed, the plaintiffs are mainly German citizens. According to the plaintiff’s representatives, the authorities have “grossly negligent or possibly even deliberately negligently neglected” to react quickly and decisively to the first news of the occurrence of the coronavirus in the Paznaun Valley, to identify the source of the infection, prevent the spread and protect people from harm to life and to preserve health. VSV chairman Peter Kolba expects up to 500 lawsuits with legal protection coverage. Those affected without legal protection insurance will be organized by means of class action. Austrian legal protection insurances would refuse cover – unjustifiably from the point of view of the association – due to the “pandemic clause”, according to the SAAM.

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Entry on the day after confirmed corona cases

There were two central allegations for the procedure: The authorities had not closed the Paznaun Valley despite the corona infections that they had been aware of since March 4, 2020 through information from Iceland. Thus, the plaintiff’s arrival on the afternoon of March 5, 2020 was still possible. Measures should, however, have been taken by noon on March 5 at the latest. The following week, the authorities engaged in mismanagement. The sources of infection were not searched for in a targeted and effective manner. In addition to the Icelandic holidays, Norwegian Erasmus students also stayed in the area and then tested positive for Covid-19. If the contact tracing had been carried out properly, the authorities would have found out earlier that the après-ski bar “Kitzloch” in Ischgl was a possible source of infection. On March 7, 2020, the waiter tested positive, but the restaurant was not closed, but reopened after disinfection and replacement of the staff.

Or, according to the complaint in Ischgl, corona tests were only carried out by the local doctor and not in the Zams hospital, as would have been prescribed in a regulation. The official information policy of the state of Tyrol would also have reduced the risk “in a misleading and factual manner”. In a media release from the country, for example, it was claimed that transmission of SARS-CoV-2 from person to person was not possible. According to the plaintiff’s representative Alexander Klauser, the holiday shift change on the weekend of March 7th and 8th, 2020 led to a “super-spreader effect”.

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Republic: those responsible “did everything right”

Going there, the Republic of Austria – represented by the chief attorney at law Martin Paar and Martin Tatscher – says in the defense that those responsible had done “everything right”. The health authorities immediately took the necessary measures that corresponded to the status of the investigation and are available due to the legal situation. It was argued that, among other things, the first infections in Tyrol had been known since the end of February and the number of infections in neighboring Italy had increased. “The plaintiff must have been aware of the epidemiological danger associated with the Covid-19 virus and the dangerousness of the Covid-19 virus” – nevertheless he decided to travel to Tyrol.

This is contradicted in the lawsuit and reference is made to the report of the independent commission of experts and the criminal investigations of the Innsbruck public prosecutor’s office. The Prosecution’s project report – it concerns five suspects – is currently with the Ministry of Justice. This is where a decision is made about the indictment, the termination of the proceedings or the commissioning of additional investigations.

All applications rejected

In the civil trial on Thursday, all applications were rejected. For example, an increase in the amount in suit from 76,000 to 90,000 euros was demanded. The man has been unable to work for a long time since his corona infection – he was in a coma, spent weeks in hospital and in rehab – and lost earnings. He still suffers from the so-called Long Covid Syndrome. The application for the preservation of evidence – such as the hearing of the plaintiff, the hearing of witnesses or the expertise of experts – was also rejected. Witnesses such as Federal Chancellor Sebastian Kurz (ÖVP), the former Green Health Minister Rudolf Anschober and Interior Minister Nehammer (ÖVP) have not yet been questioned, so they should be heard “promptly”, said Kolba after the negotiation. Obviously one has no interest in it. Kolba spoke of a “very gross procedural violation”.

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Plaintiff representative Klauser is convinced that the decision will be appealed against, regardless of whether it is from the plaintiff or the defendant. He expects a first interim judgment this year. However, until the legal question is sent through the instances, two, three, maybe four years have passed since the event in March 2020, according to Kolba. Many witnesses would no longer remember the details.

The civil trial on Thursday is the second in a series of trials. Further by-laws in October have already been set. “I assume that just with the turnover that Ischgl makes in three weeks, all claims for damages could be settled. That is 30 million euros,” said Kolba. (WHAT)

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