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Spain v. Apostolos Mangouras & Others (“Prestige” case)

Apr 15, 2024
Nombre del tribunal
Supreme Court
Número de referencia
In 2002, the oil tanker Prestige sank off the coast of Spain, causing significant environmental damage in the northern coast of Spain and the southern cost of France. This accident led to a lengthy criminal investigation against the master of the vessel. The criminal claims were accompanied by civil liability claims, which were brought by several legal persons, including the Spanish State, against the master and owners of the Prestige and the London P&I Club, the insurer of the ship and its owners. These civil liability claims were grouped and resolved by the criminal court in a single procedure. The Supreme Court applied the rules applicable to environmental accidents regulated in the international conventions CLC92 and IOPC Funds and stated that the defendants were liable and should pay an amount of compensation for damages, depending on their level of responsibility in the environmental disaster. In its ruling of 2016, the Supreme Court determined the bases for assessing the damages, including consequential damages, loss of profits and moral damages caused "not only by the feeling of fear, anger and frustration that affected a large part of Spanish and French citizens," but also by "the indelible imprint of the perception that catastrophes of this or greater magnitude can affect the same injured parties at any time." The determination of the indemnities was subsequently established by the provincial court of La Coruña, by order of the Supreme Court. The Supreme Court applied both an objective and subjective test to establish liability for damages. By the objective test, the court ruled that the International Oil Pollution Compensation Funds (IOPC Funds) must pay part of the damages up to the economic ceiling it had to bear in accordance with its own rules. For the remaining damages to be compensated, the court applied the fault-based liability test, condemning the ship's master for gross negligence, on the basis of he acted "with intent to cause such damage or recklessly and with knowledge that such damage would probably be caused." It also convicted the shipowner for "extraneous acts" as two requirements were met: (1) that there is a relationship of dependence between the perpetrator and the principal, whether a natural or legal person, for whom he works; and (2) that the perpetrator acts within the scope of his duties, albeit in excess of his duties". The court also found that the shipowner acted with conscious and deliberate disregard of the serious environmental risks involved in its actions, and therefore capable of invalidating the shipowner's right of limitation under the CLC92 by its own terms”. Finally, the insurer had to assume the amount of civil liability it was entitled to under the insurance contract. By order of 15 November 2017, the Audiencia Provincial de La Coruña (Regional Court of La Coruña, Spain) set out the amounts that each of the claimants was entitled to obtain from the respective defendants. In 2018, the Supreme Court upheld in part and rejected in part the appeal filed by the defendants in 2018 in relation to the amount of compensation referred to in the ruling of the Provincial Court in 2017.

Key environmental legal questions:

Whether who were responsible for the environmental damage caused by the oil spill of “Prestige” and the determination of the amounts of compensation of each party held liable.
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