Volume 41 (2018) / Issue 1
It is a well-established principle of EU competition law that parent companies can be fined for antitrust infringements by their subsidiaries. Under the new EU Directive on Antitrust Damages Actions, parent company liability is likely to be extended to private antitrust litigation. In the United States, in contrast, no fines are imposed on parent companies unless they are directly involved in an antitrust infringement. Moreover, US courts are reluctant to hold parent companies directly or indirectly liable in private damages suits. Against this background, I explore in this article the striking difference between EU and US competition law with regard to parent company liability. I show that one of the main purposes of holding parent companies liable in EU competition law is to solve an underdeterrence problem that occurs when subsidiaries lack sufficient assets to pay for fines or damages. I argue that the same function is fulfilled in US antitrust law by other enforcement instruments, in particular, the individual liability of managers and employees. On this basis, I conclude that primarily the existence of these functional substitutes explains why a need for parent company liability has not arisen in US antitrust law.
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