Editor and journalists owe Helmut Kohl’s heir no monetary compensation – Commentary


The Federal Court of Justice (BGH) recently ruled that a claim for financial compensation for violation of general personality law is, in principle, not hereditary. In doing so, the BGH confirmed its previous case law.


Former German Chancellor Helmut Kohl sued two journalists and a publishing house for publishing a large number of statements, allegedly made by him, in a book. He claimed the book violated his general personality rights in a total of 116 passages. He therefore requested not only an injunction against the publication of the passages in question, but also financial compensation of at least 5 million euros from the defendants.

After the district court ordered the defendants to pay Kohl 1 million euros, he died during the subsequent appeal proceedings brought by the defendants. This procedure was continued by his widow and sole heiress.


Both the Higher Regional Court and the BGH rejected the new complainant’s request for payment of monetary compensation, thus deviating from the decision of the district court.

The main reason given by the BGH for its decision was that a claim for pecuniary compensation – which can be considered in principle in the event of a serious violation of personality rights – cannot be inherited. This request would above all have a satisfaction function, which could not be fulfilled if the injured party had already died.


The BGH thus confirmed its previous case law. In 2017, in a case concerning several articles published on the Internet which, according to the complainant, infringed their personality rights,(1) it held that the heritability of a claim for damages for suffering and suffering should be rejected even if the proceedings were already pending or had become legally pending during the life of the injured party, since the satisfaction of the injured party could not be obtained only with the binding decision of a complaint. Therefore, it does not matter whether the action is filed or served.

The recent decision of the BGH in the Kohl case is consistent in this regard. Even though Helmut Kohl lived to see the trial decision in his favor (unlike the plaintiff in the proceedings underlying the 2017 decision), it made no difference to the heritability of the compensation claim. ; at least not if the dogmatic justification for such an assertion is decisively attributed to a function of satisfaction which can only occur with legal force.

With its latest judgment, the BGH has once again clearly rejected the literature which requires that the decision of the injured party whether or not to initiate an action against the infringement of his personality rights during his lifetime should also be taken into account. for the heritability of such a compensation claim.(2)

For more information on this topic, please contact Thomas Hertl or FLorian Eckert to Arnecke Sibeth Dabelstein by phone (+49 403 177 9756) or by e-mail ([email protected] or [email protected]). Arnecke Sibeth Dabelstein’s website can be accessed at www.asd-law.com.

End Notes

(1) BGH judgment of 23 May 2017 (VI ZR 261/16).

(2) For example, Teichmann in Jauernig BGB section 253 marginal n ° 13.

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