The Slovenia Times

Nine years after Drava floods, courts still processing claims


Maribor - It will be exactly nine years at the beginning of November since the Drava river flooded the majority of its course in Slovenia to leave extensive damage to homes and businesses. Damage lawsuits filed against the Austrian power utility Verbund over the flooding are still being processed and the state is in negotiations with the company.

Several court cases against Verbund are ongoing in multiple courts in Slovenia, brought by municipalities as well as individual companies. The total value of claims is estimated at EUR 107 million.

The state is suing Verbund at the Maribor District Court and the State Court in Klagenfurt, Austria. The value of the state's claim has never been officially revealed and not a single hearing has been held so far, but unofficially it is estimated at EUR 71 million.

Verbund, which operates hydro power plants in the Austrian part of the Drava, has been rejecting the blame for the flooding, which is believed to have occurred because it was too late to react to severe rain that led to the river swelling to record levels.

The largest number of cases is being processed by the Maribor District Court, whose president Alenka Zadravec has told the STA that the procedures were taking too long due to complications in determining the basis for liability to damages.

"It is about determining the causes that supposedly occurred in one country, Austria, and consequences that occurred in another country, Slovenia. It is not possible to establish the amount of property damage until the court establishes the basis of liability."

Austrian lawyer Franz Serajnik, who represents several Slovenian plaintiffs before Slovenian courts, said that the matter had also been protracted by Verbund, and that there was a lack of case law when it comes to operation of hydro power plants.

Serajnik said that expert opinions confirmed the position of the affected parties, while noting that Verbund was "blowing things out of proportion" and slowing down the procedure, which nevertheless "is going in the right direction."

The lawyer believes that courts could shorten the procedures significantly under the principle of "objective responsibility", but the problem is that there is no relevant case law.

In certain cases, lawsuits have only started to be processed, with the first hearing in the case of owners of three houses in Duplek, who are seeking a total of EUR 138,000 in damages, being held at the Maribor District Court only in mid-October.

Their lawyer Davor Ozmec said on the basis of an amended expert witness opinion from May 2019 that if there had not been for the "flood wave, for which the sued party is responsible, this real estate would not have been flooded".

Verbund attorney Matej Brajnik meanwhile repeated that, despite the documentation in the file being extensive, there was still no direct evidence that Verbund's operation of hydro power plants was to blame for the damage done by flooding.

The Slovenian state is also among the plaintiffs because of the damage done to state infrastructure, but the relevant procedure before the Maribor court is yet to start, as the state and Verbund have been in settlement negotiations.

A new inter-ministerial task force was established at the beginning of the year. "Negotiations are still under way, and there is no new information at the moment," the Environment and Spatial Planning Ministry has recently told the STA.


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