German court rules clubs can seek damages from supporters

Germany's Federal Court of Justice (BGH) has ruled that clubs are within their rights to seek damages from fans for fines handed to them by the German Football Association (DFB) for violating stadium rules.

The case on trial was an incident at a second-tier match between Cologne and Paderborn in February 2014, in which a supporter threw a firework from the upper tier into the lower tier of the Mungersdorfer Stadion, leaving seven people hurt, with two suffering severe head injuries.

The fan was handed an 18-month suspended prison sentence during his criminal trial and was also ordered to pay €4,000.

However, Cologne were also fined €50,000 as a result of the incident, leading the club to file a lawsuit asking for €30,000 from the man responsible.

After a district court ruled that Cologne were right to pass on the fine, the supporter took the case to the Higher Regional Court, which decided in his favour.

But following another appeal by Cologne, the case was taken to the BGH -- Germany's highest court -- which said there is a legal connection between violating stadium rules and the fines imposed on clubs.

The case has now been handed back to the Higher Regional Court, which will decide whether the supporter will have to pay all or some of the damages sought by the club. Cologne welcomed the court ruling.

"The BGH ruling gives us as a club much needed legal certainty regarding the question as to whether we can pass penalties imposed by the DFB on to those who were originally responsible," Cologne executive Thomas Schonig said on the club's official website.

DFB vice president Rainer Koch also welcomed the ruling in a statement on the association's official website.

Koch expressed his hope that the ruling will "lead to a significant decrease in the use of pyrotechnics, which is generally forbidden."

In an interview with Zeit.de, Bochum-based lawyer Matthias Dullberg said the DFB lacked a "transparent regulation of sanctions."

"Every time a flare is lit the DFB has to judge it individually to have an allowable penal system," he said. "It's also deserving of criticism that the sanctions are calculated from the economic performance of a club, but in the future will be divided among individual persons."