The French class action entered into force on 1 October 2014 as part of the Consumer law called ‘the Hamon Act’. A tidal wave was expected for this long-awaited law. A year after its entry into force, the results are underwhelming. For the time being, only six class actions have been instituted before French courts, compared to the thousands brought each year before the US Courts. Several reasons may underline this limited number of class actions.

The limited scope of the French class action

The French class action targets only consumer victims; the consumer being defined as any natural person acting for purposes which fall outside of his trade, business, craft or profession. Therefore, businesses and professionals cannot gather together in order to start a class action. Remedies may only be sought for economic losses resulting from material damages suffered by consumers.

A monopoly of accredited consumer associations has been introduced for the defence of consumers. As of today, 15 consumer associations are entitled to act on behalf of consumers. Unlike the US system, the French class actions functions on an opt in with publicity basis, hence requiring a positive act on the part of the consumer willing to take part in the action.

The Consumer Law provides for a two-stage procedure: (i) a civil courts decision on the professional’s liability; and (ii) a compensation stage allowing consumers to recover damages following the court’s decision. This quite restrictive conception of the class action could explain the reason why only six class actions have been introduced within the last year.

Jan-Mar 2016 issue

Jones Day