ALEXANDER PAVLOVSKY, PARTNER AT A.T.LEGAL
Customers of the educational platform GeekBrains filed a class action lawsuit against it. They demand compensation because the company does not refund money for online courses if a student decides to withdraw at the beginning of the course. This is one of the first such lawsuits in the fast-growing market for educational services. The outcome of the case may affect the organization of business processes of other players, experts believe.
Collective suits (the official name is a statement of claim for the protection of rights and legitimate interests of a group of persons) became part of domestic civil litigation recently - since October 01, 2019. The institution has not yet become popular. However, the lawsuit brought against Geek Brains is not the first consumer protection collective lawsuit in Russian law enforcement practice. Back in early 2020, a lawsuit was filed in the Privolzhsky District Court of Kazan for the protection of consumer rights, the defendant of which was a local management company. Residents were dissatisfied with the quality of cleaning and snow removal. However, for more than a year and a half, the plaintiffs tried to get the claim accepted by the court. In another case against cosmetics manufacturer FemFatal, the court dismissed the claims.
As far as we can tell from public sources, the lawsuit against the educational platform has not yet been accepted for filing. It is very likely that, given the lack of established jurisprudence on class actions, plaintiffs will have to work hard to even get the court to simply start considering the merits of the case.
The plaintiffs' position in the GeekBrain case is a winning one, since the existence of the consumer's right to early withdrawal from the service contract is indisputable (Art. 32 of the Consumer Rights Protection Law). The main issue will be the amount to be returned to the plaintiffs. The defendant may cite evidence of incurring certain expenses for the provision of services to consumers. In this case the plaintiffs will not receive all of the money they paid, but only a part.
The wording of contracts like GeekBrains' in terms of refunds when the client refuses to cooperate further is often used in educational online projects, despite the fact that such provisions violate the law. Most students simply do not pay attention to this fact and do not assert their rights, because most often it is not economically feasible. Therefore, in the event of a positive outcome of the court case, we should hardly expect a fundamental change in the behavior of the participants in the Internet education market, because the GeekBrains case risks becoming a single one due to the passive position of potential claimants. But the opposite situation is also possible, when the precedent may contribute to collective appeals to court on other platforms. Given such risks, it is possible that the owners of online educational projects will prefer to adjust the terms of their contracts with clients.
Citizens are increasingly turning to courts with class action lawsuits. Given the positive dynamics and the fact that the disputed rights and legitimate interests of a wide range of people are violated, courts are taking such cases more responsibly than they do for individual disputes. The ability to bring a class action creates a significant procedural savings, where instead of dozens of disparate cases, courts in one proceeding can protect the rights of many individuals at once.
You can read more about the background of the case and the expert opinion in the Kommersant Publication
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