For the first time in an insurance class action brought by a consumers' association, the National Commercial Court of Appeals applied the one-year limitation period set out in the Insurance Law instead of the three-year limitation period set forth in the Consumer Protection Law.
The judgement was issued in re "Consumidores Financieros Asociación Civil p/ su defensa c/ La Meridional Compañía Argentina de Seguros s/ ordinario", where the plaintiff consumers' association sought: (i) the nullity of a clause regarding total destruction of the vehicle based on the percentage of the sale value of the wreckage; and (ii) an indemnification for the clients of the defendant that were not indemnified for the complete value of the vehicle due to said clause.
The defense was regarded as preliminary since it involved a matter of law and also to provide certainty as to the retroactive scope of the evidence to be taken.
As the grounds for its decision, the Court of Appeals explained that the statute of limitation cannot be separated from the cause of the action, so that when said cause is set out in the insurance contract, the limitation period to be applied is one-year as set forth in the Insurance Law and not the general three-year limitation period of the Consumer Protection Law.
The reason for this is that the Consumer Protection Law is a general rule applicable to all consumers' contracts or relationships so that it cannot tacitly or implicitly prevail over the Insurance Law, as the latter is a previously enacted law that specifically and exclusively regulates insurance contracts.
Additionally, the Court of Appeals stated that this solution accords with the amendment introduced by law No. 26,994 to the Consumer Protection Law, as it limited the three-year limitation period to sanctions –and no longer to claims- emerging from said Consumer Protection Law.
In other words, the amendment eliminated all references to legal claims based on the Consumer Protection Law and to the mandatory limitation period most favorable to the consumer when other laws set forth a different term.
The decision was challenged by the plaintiff through an extraordinary appeal which was dismissed and led to a direct remedy of complaint before the National Supreme Court whose decision is still pending.
This is a relevant precedent for consumers' class actions related to insurance contracts as it settles the ordinary dispute on the applicable limitation period, limiting the retroactive indemnification liability to one year.
Even though the National Supreme Court has not yet issued a decision on this matter in the context of consumers' class actions, it has done so in several individual claims giving the same ruling expressed by the Court of Appeals. Therefore, the likely outcome is that the National Supreme Court will follow its prior doctrine even in the case of class actions, should the direct remedy of complaint be opened.
This is so because: (i) the rules involved do not foresee a different limitation period for class actions and (ii) such a solution does not dismiss the action but only limits the limitation period to be considered, thus allowing the main purpose of these claims which is preventing or correcting alleged abuses and not obtaining an indemnification.
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