Golf club manufacturer fine for restricting online sales enables retailers to sue

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The UK’s competition watchdog has fined Ping Europe Limited £1.45m for unlawfully preventing UK retailers from selling its golf clubs online. The decision paves the way for retailers and others to bring ‘follow on’ damages claims in the courts.

Decision

The Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) has ruled that golf merchandise brand Ping Europe Limited (Ping), the European arm of the US-headquartered company, has breached UK and EU competition law by preventing two UK retailers from selling its golf clubs online.

The CMA found that, while Ping was pursuing a genuine commercial aim of promoting in-store custom fitting, it could have achieved this through less restrictive means.

Ping has been fined £1.45 million, is required to bring its online sales ban to an end, and must not impose the same or equivalent terms on other retailers. Ping also faces ‘follow on’ civil actions for damages brought by consumers, retailers and other businesses affected by the anti-competitive behaviour.

‘Follow on’ damages claims

Under section 47A of the Competition Act 1998, a person or business who has suffered loss or damage by virtue of a relevant infringement of EU or UK competition law is entitled to sue in the UK courts. Claimants will be able to rely on the CMA’s decision as evidence of the anti-competitive behaviour, which means that it will be only be necessary to establish that a loss has been caused by the anti-competitive behaviour and the amount of that loss.

Comment

This is the latest in a number of infringement decisions involving restrictions on online sales. However, most of these recent decisions have involved pricing restrictions (resale price maintenance) when selling online, for example in relation to the light and bathroom fittings sectors. Ping has indicated that it will appeal the decision.

In relation to ‘follow on’ damages claims, there have been relatively few claims of this type in the UK to date but recent legal reforms have made it easier for consumers and businesses to claims damages if they have been affected by anti-competitive behaviour. We are currently advising the Welsh Government and NHS in Wales in a high-profile competition law case relating to an alleged abuse of a dominant position by a major pharmaceutical company.

If you would like advice or assistance in relation to ‘follow on’ damages claims or competition law please contact a member of our Dispute Resolution Team.

RELATED: DISPUTE RESOLUTION - EXPERTISE  

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