Antitrust Litigation 2023 Comparisons

Last Updated September 21, 2023


Law and Practice


AGON PARTNERS LEGAL has offices in Zurich and Berne, and specialises in antitrust and competition law. The firm offers a wide array of essential in-house services to anticipate, assess and overcome the various challenges businesses face in antitrust proceedings. In addition to their expertise, AGON PARTNERS’ experienced specialists have the privilege to draw on an international network of senior managers in regulatory agencies, as well as long-term experience in developing and executing effective procedural strategies. The firm continuously monitors and analyses existing legislative and legal developments and is actively involved in shaping the academic discourse on the application and development of Swiss antitrust law via White Papers and presentations. On an ongoing basis, AGON PARTNERS provides clients with the latest insights and maintains a presence in the academic world, sharing its knowledge with the coming generation of antitrust attorneys.

The dispatch on the partial revision of the Federal Act on Cartels and other Restraints of Competition was adopted by the Federal Council on 24 May 2023. The primary focus of the partial revision is on the modernisation of merger control. The previously applied qualified market dominance test will be replaced by the significant impediment to effective competition test (SIEC test). This will make it possible to prohibit mergers that hinder competition in a more targeted manner or to approve them subject to conditions and obligations. Furthermore, the partial revision also adapts the civil antitrust law as well as the so-called opposition proceeding. The following elements are at the centre of the revision of civil law.

  • The right to sue is extended to all parties affected by unlawful restrictions of competition, including consumers and the public sector (eg, public contracting authorities). In addition, indirectly affected parties are also covered, which means in particular customers at the next but one market level.
  • A suspension of the statute of limitations for civil law claims arising from unlawful restraints of competition is introduced, namely from the time the Swiss Competition Commission (COMCO) opens an investigation until the final decision.
  • The existing actions will be supplemented by a claim for a declaration of the unlawfulness of a restriction of competition.
  • Voluntary payments of damages should now also be able to be taken into account after the decision of the Competition Commission in order to reduce the burden of any administrative sanction.

In addition to the Federal Act on Cartels and other Restraints of Competition, the competition authorities are also to be restructured, as the unclear division of responsibilities between the Commission as the decision-making authority and the Secretariat as the investigating authority are repeatedly criticised. For this reason, the Federal Council initiated work on a reform of the competition authorities on 17 March 2023. Various approaches for improvement have already been discussed in the business and political communities. One possibility would be for the Secretariat of COMCO to be transferred to a legally autonomous competition authority, independent of the federal administration, and for COMCO to be upgraded to a trial competition court. The competition authority would conduct the investigations and “bring charges” against behaviour, much like a prosecutor and the trial competition court would make the court decision and impose any sanctions.

Furthermore, the revised Notice on Vertical Agreements entered into force on 1 January 2023. This notice concerns agreements between companies at different market levels – for example, an agreement between a manufacturer and a retailer. In principle, such agreements are permissible and commonplace. However, agreements on price maintenance are inadmissible for example. The Notice on Vertical Agreements shows companies exactly which agreements are permissible and which are not. With the revision, COMCO adapted its Treatment of Vertical Agreements to the revised EU law so that uniformity is maintained.

Finally, on 16 August 2022, COMCO initiated an investigation against an internationally active pharmaceutical company. There are indications that the pharmaceutical company is refusing to sell pharmaceutical and health products to a Swiss pharmaceutical wholesaler at more favourable conditions abroad. COMCO is now analysing whether the internationally active pharmaceutical company has relative market power towards the Swiss pharmaceutical wholesaler and whether this relative market power is being abused.

COMCO has had a new president since 1 January 2023. The Federal Council appointed Laura Melusine Baudenbacher as the new President of COMCO on 16 November 2022. She takes over the office from Andreas Heinemann. Laura Melusine Baudenbacher has a very broad knowledge of antitrust law at a national and international level.

Legal Basis for a Claim for Damages

Article 12 (1) litera b of the Swiss Cartel Act constitutes the legal basis for a claim for damages resulting from a breach of competition law. However, the article explicitly refers to the Swiss Code of Obligations (CO) for such claims. As a result, claimants may recover damages resulting from a breach of competition law in accordance with the ordinary principles and provisions of Swiss contract and tort law. While Articles 13 and 15 of the Swiss Cartel Act provide some specific procedural rules for civil proceedings concerning such claims, the majority of the procedural rules stem from the Swiss Code of Civil Procedure (CPC).

Follow-On and Standalone Claims

Even though there is no specific legislation for follow-on claims, both follow-on and standalone claims are available according to Swiss law. The plaintiff may take civil action based on the findings of COMCO. However, a decision of COMCO is not necessary, as civil proceedings may also be started without an open investigation by COMCO.

There are neither specialist competition courts nor specialist competition judges in civil courts in Switzerland. In fact, civil competition cases are assigned to the common civil courts or commercial courts (if any).

As every Swiss canton is competent to establish the organisation of its courts, the court is assigned by cantonal law, the only federal law requirement being that there may only be one single court in each canton that handles competition cases (Article 5 (1) litera b, CPC). In most cantons, the law assigns civil competition cases to a higher cantonal court. Some cantons (ie, Zurich and Berne) have established special courts for commercial matters, which are also the competent courts for civil competition cases in these cantons. However, even these courts do not specialise exclusively in competition law, but deal with commercial matters more generally.

Decisions of the Competition Commission

Decisions of COMCO are not binding for civil courts. Such decisions will nevertheless be of great importance in civil proceedings, as, in practice, civil judges will hardly ever deviate from COMCO’s opinion. As a result, such decisions may facilitate follow-on claims.

Expert Opinion by the Competition Commission

In the event that a civil court has to assess the legality of a restraint of competition, it is obliged by law to refer the case to COMCO for an expert opinion (Article 15 (1), Cartel Act). The opinion is limited to a legal assessment based on the facts provided by the court and, as is the case for COMCO’s decisions, COMCO’s expert opinion is not binding on the civil court; rather, how the expert opinion is weighed and evaluated as evidence is a matter for the judge.

Decisions of National Competition Authorities (NCAs) of Other Countries

Decisions of foreign NCAs may be submitted by the parties as evidence during civil proceedings. However, as a consequence of the principle of unfettered assessment of evidence by the court, how much weight to give the decision of a foreign competition authority is a matter for the judge.

Burden of Proof

As a general principle of Swiss civil law, the burden of proof lies with the person who derives rights from the disputed fact in question (Article 8, Swiss Civil Code). Therefore, the burden of proof concerning claims for damages lies with the plaintiff. In particular, the plaintiff has to quantify and prove the damages. However, the court may estimate the damages according to Article 42 (2) of the CO if an exact quantification is impossible.

In accordance with the general rule mentioned above, the burden of proof in establishing a pass-on defence lies with the defendant.

Standard of Proof

The parties need to provide persuasive evidence for all relevant disputed facts for which they have the burden of proof. The judge has to be fully convinced that the facts took place as the party alleges. It is to be noted that the court is free to weigh and evaluate the evidence provided by the parties. There are no specific rules on how to assess the evidence (principle of the free assessment of evidence).

Although there are no specific rules and there has been no court ruling on this matter, claims are, in principle, not limited to those purchasers directly affected by illicit behaviour. In order to have standing for a claim, it is therefore sufficient for the claimant to be affected by the restraint of competition even in an indirect way. As a result, it is neither necessary for the claimant to be a competitor nor does the restraint necessarily have to be directly aimed at them. According to the prevailing doctrine, consumers are, however, not authorised to bring claims based on the Cartel Act.

An estimation of an average duration of the proceedings is difficult. On the one hand, there are not many comparable cases in Switzerland. On the other, the duration depends on several factors, such as the complexity of the case, the workload of the court and granted extensions of deadlines to the parties. Consequently, the duration varies from case to case. Civil competition actions tend to be more complex than most other civil proceedings, which is likely to contribute to the proceedings taking longer than other civil proceedings in Switzerland. The duration can therefore range from one year to several years. This is especially true if the proceedings are suspended.

Suspension of Proceedings

The court may stay the proceedings based on Article 126 (1) of the CPC if expediency so requires. The proceedings may be suspended if the decision is dependent on the outcome of other proceedings. This could be the case if the civil judge submits a question to COMCO for an expert opinion. The judge can only make their decision once the expert opinion is available. Moreover, it is conceivable that a civil court would stay civil proceedings pending the conclusion of parallel administrative antitrust proceedings. This could be the case if the civil action were based on a cartel infringement to be established in the cartel proceedings.

The parties have the right to apply for suspension (see Article 126 (1)). The decision on this is subject to appeal in accordance with Article 126 (2) of the CPC.

Precautionary Measures

Strictly speaking, the handling of precautionary measures constitutes a separate procedure from the main proceedings. Such summary proceedings last between a few days and a few months. The duration also depends on whether the counterparty will be heard by the court in advance. See 4.1 Strike-Out/Summary Judgment.

Class/collective actions are not available in Switzerland – even though the introduction of class actions was discussed during the preliminary work for the CPC, the proposal was rejected in the end.

Individual claims arising from the same factual basis may, however, be bundled by way of consolidation and joinder of parties. Furthermore, it is also possible to assign individual claims to one person, who may bring all claims together.

Swiss law does not permit class actions.

Swiss law does not permit class actions.

In the context of cartel law, summary decisions are particularly relevant in connection with precautionary measures. According to Article 261 of the CPC, the court can take the necessary precautionary measures if the requesting party credibly demonstrates that:

  • a right to which that party is entitled has been violated or a violation is anticipated; and
  • the violation threatens to cause not easily reparable harm to the applicant.

Furthermore, even if not explicitly mentioned in Article 261 of the CPC, urgency in terms of time is part of the catalogue of prerequisites for precautionary measures.

In cases of particular urgency, especially where there is a risk of frustration, the court may order the precautionary measure immediately and even without hearing the other party (Article 265, CPC).

It is in the nature of things that precautionary measures are granted even before the filing of an action. In practice, interim relief is relevant in cases of abuse of a dominant position; for example, if a manufacturer with market power no longer supplies the dealer of its selective distribution system, even though the dealer continues to fulfil the selective distribution criteria. In this case, the civil judge can uphold the status quo of the supply with a summary decision valid for the duration of the proceedings.

Summary decisions would also be possible concerning claims that are based on undisputed or immediately provable facts and where the legal situation is obvious (so-called legal protection in clear cases).

International Cases

In international cases, jurisdiction for civil competition actions in Switzerland is assessed according to the Swiss Federal Act on International Private Law and the Lugano Convention. Jurisdiction in Switzerland is given in the following cases:

  • the defendant has its seat or domicile in Switzerland;
  • for lack of domicile – the defendant’s habitual residence is in Switzerland;
  • the damaging event occurred in Switzerland;
  • the damaging event had its effects in Switzerland; and
  • the parties may also agree on a place of jurisdiction for an existing or for a future legal dispute concerning pecuniary claims (Article 5, Federal Act on Private International Law, or PILA). This also includes claims based on the Cartel Act.

Domestic Cases

Similar rules apply in domestic cases. The court at the seat or domicile of the defendant has jurisdiction. Jurisdiction is also given at the place where the damaging event occurred or where it had its effects. Additionally, jurisdiction is also given at the seat or domicile of the claimant. Finally, the parties may agree on a place of jurisdiction and/or the applicable law.

Claims Based on Tort Law

For claims based on tort law, the relative limitation period is three years. The limitation period starts when the plaintiff has sufficient information about the damage and the person responsible for it. Irrespective of the claimant’s knowledge, however, damage claims based on tort law become statute-barred within ten years of the damaging conduct having come to an end.

Contract Claims

The statute of limitation period of a claim based on contract law depends first on the existing specific provisions of the contract in question. If there is no specific provision, the limitation period is ten years.

Claims for Removal or Cessation of Unlawful Restraints

There is no specific limitation period regarding claims for removal or cessation of the unlawful restraint of competition. Such claims can be brought before the court as long as the restraint exists or is imminent.

In addition, a party may waive the assertion of the limitation period for a maximum of ten years. This waiver may be repeated several times.

No General Duty of Disclosure or Pre-action Disclosure

Swiss law does not provide for a general duty of disclosure between the parties; in particular, pre-action disclosure is not available in Switzerland. Prior to the commencement of an action, a party can therefore only obtain information from the opposing party based on existing substantive information rights; for example, a contractual right to information or the right of a shareholder of a company. The Cartel Act does not grant to private plaintiffs any additional rights to access information.

Applications for disclosure in Swiss civil proceedings, meanwhile, are handled restrictively. Generally, disclosure will only be granted if the applying party succeeds in demonstrating that it requires a specific document in the possession of the other party.

Disclosure of COMCO’s Documents

If the plaintiff is a party to the administrative proceedings, it may obtain access to the competition authorities’ documents, except for leniency application files. The question of whether COMCO is obliged to also disclose files to a civil court has not yet been answered. The Federal Supreme Court recently ruled that, based on Swiss data protection legislation, COMCO may grant a canton at least partial access to the files of the proceedings if the canton wishes to bring a civil action (2C_1040/2018, 2C_1051/2018).

The public prosecutor's office and the criminal courts can consult files from other proceedings if this is necessary to prove the facts of the case or to assess the accused (Article 194 (1), CPC). A civil plaintiff who is at the same time affected by the criminal proceedings could inspect the files of the criminal proceedings and obtain COMCO’s files this way.

Legal Professional Privilege

Practising registered lawyers are subject to a professional duty of secrecy and may refuse not only to testify as a witness in a case on which they are advising but also to produce privileged documents. This is a comprehensive privilege that applies irrespective of where the documents in question are located, and irrespective of when they were created. However, this only applies to documents drawn up by a lawyer in the exercise of their traditional activities as a lawyer. If, for example, they act as a board member and prepare documents in this capacity, they are not protected.

In-House Counsel

Under Swiss law, no similar privilege exists to protect advice provided by in-house counsel. Documents prepared by, or held in the possession of, in-house counsel may therefore be requested by opposing parties in civil proceedings.

COMCO will generally deny access to statements made, and documents submitted, by leniency applicants. These files can only be inspected by the parties involved in the proceedings and are subject to a restriction on use. COMCO shall decree under penalty of infringement that the files may only be used to protect the rights within the scope of its proceedings. They may explicitly not be used for the enforcement of civil claims.

If a case has been the subject of an EU investigation, claimants may apply for access to the files and records of the European Commission and if access is granted, use the documents concerned in the respective civil proceedings in Switzerland.

Witness testimony can be submitted as evidence under the CPC and, if necessary, the court may compel witnesses to give evidence. Witness statements are usually made orally, the witnesses being subject to cross-examination. If the court does not deem it necessary for the witness to be questioned, though, it may request a witness to give evidence in writing.

The subject matter of the testimony is the statement of facts potentially relevant to the decision on a certain matter, which the witness has directly perceived themselves. Since cartel agreements are often concluded orally and secretly, testimony can be of great practical importance. However, courts tend to rely on written documentation rather than on witnesses if written documentation is available.

In competition law cases, judges can rely on expert witnesses.

The court may consider expert evidence on its own or at the request of a party. If the legality of a restraint of competition is in question, the court is even obliged to submit the question to COMCO for an expert opinion (Article 15 (1), Cartel Act). Since the Cartel Act calls on COMCO to act as an expert witness for competition violations and since the judge can even estimate damages in compensation cases, expert witnesses have not historically played a central role in civil cases. This could change, however, as even the estimation of damages in competition law cases is complex for civil judges. It would be conceivable that a civil judge could call in experts to better assess damages.

Expert opinions will always be requested in writing. The parties are free to challenge the expert opinions with their own expert reports. As a rule, a court attaches greater credibility to a court-appointed expert than to a party expert who is paid to represent a certain opinion. The court expert is not only subject to a duty to tell the truth but is also liable to prosecution for deliberately false expert opinions. Although various expert opinions are compared and assessed by the judge, there is no actual oral “hot tubbing”.

The amount of awarded damages will mainly be determined on the basis of the incurred loss that a claimant is able to prove. However, if it is not possible to establish the exact amount of damages, the judge may assess them at their discretion (Article 42 (2), CO). Furthermore, the judge may also assess the damages at their discretion if it is not possible to prove that an effective damage even occurred.

If it is impossible or unreasonable for the claimant to quantify their claim at the outset of the proceedings, they may bring an action for an unspecified claim. However, it must state a minimum value, which shall be deemed to be the provisional amount in dispute. The claim must be quantified as soon as the claimant is in a position to do so after the conclusion of the evidential steps or after the defendant has provided information (Article 85 (1) and (2), CPC).

Exemplary/Punitive Damages

Swiss law does not provide for an award of exemplary or punitive damages. However, parties affected by competition law breaches can demand restitution of the profits realised by the defendant due to the illicit behaviour under the Cartel Act. While claims for damages purport to compensate the claimant for losses suffered due to a breach of competition law, the restitution targets the return of ill-gotten gains. As such, it may, in particular, come into play where it is not possible to establish the claimant’s losses with sufficient certainty.

There are no specific legal provisions on pass-on defences and the question of their admissibility has not yet been decided by the Swiss courts. However, since the purpose of Swiss tort law consists in compensating the victim only for the damages effectively sustained, it must be assumed that the pass-on defence is admissible. Fundamental principles of Swiss tort law – particularly the prohibition of overcompensation in favour of the victim and the principle that a victim has to deduce any advantages and savings that they are able to achieve from the suffered damages – also lead to this conclusion.

As a result, if the defendant is able to successfully invoke the pass-on defence, the claimant will only be entitled to compensation for their remaining losses.

Interest on damages resulting from a breach of competition law is payable under the same conditions as interest for other damages based on tort or contract law. Interest includes pre-judgment interest, if applicable, as well as post-judgment interest. Interest is payable at the rate of 5% for the year, where the parties have not contractually agreed on another rate.

Joint and Several Liability

If several enterprises have contributed to a breach of competition law together (ie, participants in a cartel), the contributors are jointly and severally liable to those who have suffered damages from the breach. Thus, the claimant has the right to claim the full amount of damages from one selected contributor, who may then subrogate against the other contributors.

Liability of Immunity Applicants

There is no legal basis under Swiss law to treat immunity or leniency applicants differently from other contributors in this regard. Though leniency is offered by COMCO with regard to administrative sanctions, there is no direct link between leniency applications and civil procedures. As a result, leniency applications might fully or partly release the applicant from administrative sanctions, but not from the duty to pay damages or from the retribution of illicitly earned profits.

De facto, COMCO protects immunity applicants by not releasing their files for civil actions (see 5.3 Leniency Materials/Settlement Agreements).

Except for cases of summary judgments, the defendant may bring contribution proceedings against a third party; eg, other participants of a breach of competition law (Article 81 CPC). Contribution proceedings enable the defendant to lodge their claims against third parties within the proceedings of the claim against them. This constitutes a valuable remedy for the defendant if they intend to take regressive action against other contributors when ordered by the court to pay damages.

It is possible to obtain a preliminary injunction so as to prevent one party from continuing to engage in competition law breaches. In order to do that, the applicant must provide evidence of the competition law breach and demonstrate that they are likely to suffer irreparable harm if the infringement continues. In cases of extraordinary urgency, courts may even grant preliminary injunctions without hearing the other party.

Unlike in ordinary civil proceedings, the courts are not required to obtain a prior legal opinion from COMCO (Article 15, Swiss Cartel Act) in such cases even if the legality of the restraint of competition is in question.

Depending on the urgency of the dispute, the order can take anywhere from a few days to a few weeks or months.

As methods of alternative dispute resolution in civil competition law cases, mediation and arbitration are available in Switzerland and international contracts often provide for arbitration in Switzerland. Civil competition law disputes may therefore be submitted to arbitration, the arbitral tribunals being obliged to apply Swiss or European competition law if these laws are relevant to the outcome of the case.

However, in the event that European competition law is not, or not correctly, applied by an arbitral tribunal, it is extremely difficult to obtain an annulment of the result as the incorrect application of European competition law does not constitute a challenge ground in terms of a public policy ground in Switzerland.

The Swiss Federal Supreme Court decided in 2004 that third-party funding is permitted in Switzerland. However, the court also pointed out that, under certain circumstances, third-party funding might affect the independence required by law of the respective lawyer. Incidentally, there are very few organisations that offer third-party funding for civil litigation in Switzerland. The organisations that do offer litigation funding assess the case based on its chances of successful trial. The litigation funder provides the financial resources for litigation funding on an ongoing basis. In many cases, they also assume the risk that the plaintiff has to pay the costs of the other party. In return, the litigation financier receives a share of the litigation profits. The participation can be determined, for example, on a percentage basis or on the basis of the investments made by the litigation funder.

As a general rule in Swiss civil law, the losing party bears the court costs and has to pay compensation for the expenses of the prevailing party. The judge has a certain amount of discretion, though, regarding the eventual allocation of the costs. The compensation is calculated based on cantonal fee schedules and does not usually cover all incurred expenses.

The decisions of the cantonal courts may be appealed to the Swiss Federal Supreme Court. Grounds for appeal are limited to false application of the law (federal law, international public law and constitutional law) by the cantonal court and to any obvious mistakes in the determination of the relevant facts. The Swiss Federal Supreme Court is bound by the facts established by the cantonal court (unless they are obviously erroneous) and, in general, new facts and evidence may not be submitted during the appeal proceedings.


Wiesenstrasse 17
8008 Zurich

+41 (0) 43 344 95 82

+41 (0) 43 344 95 83
Author Business Card

Law and Practice in Switzerland


AGON PARTNERS LEGAL has offices in Zurich and Berne, and specialises in antitrust and competition law. The firm offers a wide array of essential in-house services to anticipate, assess and overcome the various challenges businesses face in antitrust proceedings. In addition to their expertise, AGON PARTNERS’ experienced specialists have the privilege to draw on an international network of senior managers in regulatory agencies, as well as long-term experience in developing and executing effective procedural strategies. The firm continuously monitors and analyses existing legislative and legal developments and is actively involved in shaping the academic discourse on the application and development of Swiss antitrust law via White Papers and presentations. On an ongoing basis, AGON PARTNERS provides clients with the latest insights and maintains a presence in the academic world, sharing its knowledge with the coming generation of antitrust attorneys.