Since the 1980s, product liability matters have been shaped more and more by French law, particularly under the initiative of European law. The implementation of a product liability regime was aimed at taking into consideration two phenomena that often appear to be contradictory: consumer protection on the one hand, and safeguarding the economic and competitive interests of manufacturers on the other.

France voted the European directive of 25 July 1985, a law which governs the laws, regulations and administrative provision of the Member States concerning liability for defective products (the European Directive), into national law via the Law of 19 May 1998. Accordingly, a new chapter governing product liability was incorporated into the French Civil Code.

Since then, French law concerning product liability has remained virtually unchanged. Nevertheless, sections 1386-1 and seq. have led to an abundance of French case law with a tendency to protect consumers’ interests at the expense of manufacturers.

The above notwithstanding, one should also bear in mind that economic considerations have not been totally set aside, due partly to the pressure of the European Court of Justice (ECJ), which has shown on numerous occasions its attachment to the economic and competing arguments put forward by the manufacturers.

A general overview of the different provisions of the French Civil Code shows that there is a contrast between the victims’ right of compensation compared to manufacturers’ limited duty to compensate.

Given the above limitation, it is worth noting that, under certain circumstances, the victim may opt for another French liability regime.

Apr-Jun 2016 issue

Jones Day