The Italian Supreme Court has recently published a judgment (no. 23401 of 2022, hereinafter the “Impregilo Case”) that sheds new light on certain elements of liability of Italian companies arising from legislative decree no. 231 of 2001.
Put it simply, legislative decree 231 has established quasi-criminal liability of companies when one of their employees commits a certain crime to its benefit or in its interest. The same law has established that the company is exempt from liability if (i) it has adopted an organizational and management model (“Model”) aimed at preventing such crimes, and (ii) it has appointed an independent compliance committee (“Committee”), which has diligently overseen the actual application of such Model. If a company has not adopted an adequate Model duly enforced by the Committee, then it is regarded as failing to diligently organize itself in order to prevent 231 crimes: having failed at its duty to prevent the crime, it is therefore at fault (so called “colpa in organizzazione”, or organizational fault) and liable. Additional information on 231 legislation can be found here.
In the Impregilo Case, which followed a tortuous path through courts of various instances, the Supreme Court has established very interesting principles:
- The mere fact that a certain 231 crime has occurred is not sufficient to prove that the Model was inadequate: 231 liability of a company is not strict liability, rather is based on fault, i.e., depends on lack of diligence in preventing the crime.
- Adequacy of the Model must be assessed with a focus on the specific crime occurred, and not with regard to the Model as a whole.
- If the Model conforms to codes of conduct drafted by industry associations, a court has the duty to indicate which best practices would have effectively prevented the crime.
This judgement ultimately grants exemption from 231 liability and recognizes that, since the Model was based on best practices, it was adequately preventing the crime, even if the crime was in fact committed due to the choice of the company’s managers to circumvent the Model.
If this trend in case law continues, companies will have a stronger incentive to adopt, enforce and update Models diligently reflecting best practices in crime prevention.