Spain: Compensation for Commercial Agents after Successive Fixed-Term Contracts

30 June 2022 - Michael Fries

One of the main points of contention in the termination of a distribution contract is whether the commercial agent or distributor has acquired new customers or significantly increased the volume of business with existing customers. This question is important because a commercial agent or distributor is only entitled to compensation if at least one of the two goals have been achieved and thus after the termination of the contractual relationship the company is in financial advantage in comparison to beforehand.

Michael Fries Abogado & Rechtsanwalt +34 91 319 96 86

The subject of a recent appeal before the Seville Court of Appeals (Audiencia Provincial de Sevilla) was the compensation claim by a commercial agent for mobile phone lines. The agent had worked for the mobile phone company from 1999 to 2015. However, his contractual relationship had not been continuous: the company only ever entered into three-year contracts with the commercial agent, then to sign a new contract with the same duration once the previous contract had expired. This had been the modus operandi for 15 years. Upon expiry of each old contract and signature of each new contract, the commercial agent signed an agreement declaring that any claims for damages or potential compensation for existing clientele had been settled without receiving any payment in exchange. Such a waiver of the assertion of compensation claims, which is not declared until after termination of an agency contract, does not constitute a violation of the mandatory provisions of the Spanish Law on Agency Contracts (Ley sobre el Contrato de Agencia Comercial).

When the mobile phone company finally terminated the contractual relationship after five successive, fixed-term contracts, the commercial agent filed claims for the compensation to which he was entitled. To do so, he had to prove that he had acquired new customers or significantly increased existing turnover with his sales activities. The mobile phone company argued that the commercial agent had not acquired any or only a few new customers during the term of the three-year contract and that turnover with existing customers had not increased significantly.

Contrary to the opinion of the mobile phone company, the Seville Provincial Court stated in its judgment, with reference to Supreme Court case law, that not only the last fixed-term contractual relationship could be used for the examination to determine whether the commercial agent had acquired new customers. In the case of fixed-term contractual relationships, the duration of the entire contractual relationship had to be considered, which in this case amounted to a total of 15 years. Thus, the agent could indeed prove that he had captured a significant number of new customers during this period. For this reason, the court ultimately ruled in his favour, upholding his right to compensation.