France: France Adopts New Consumers’ Rights Law

On Feb. 13, 2014, the French National Assembly adopted the so-called "loi Hamon," an Act of Parliament related to consumers' rights and, supplier-distributor relations. Following the French Constitutional Council Decision confirming the act on March 13, 2014, it was published in the Official Journal of the French Republic on March 18, 2014.

France was one of the last major countries in Europe not to have a collective redress system, although it was discussed for several years by different French governments. The new law allows consumers who suffered similarly or identically from a professional's breach of its legal or contractual obligations, to introduce an action against the professional. The class action may only take place in the case of a sale of goods, a provision of services, or a breach of any competition law provisions (abuse of dominant position or a cartel established by a competition authority), as only compensation for pecuniary losses may be claimed (no punitive damages). Only a few consumer associations are authorized to bring an action on behalf of consumers.

Once such an action is filed, the relevant Court of First Instance (Tribunal de Grande Instance) will have to determine: (1) the professional's liability on the basis of the individual claims; (2) the group of consumers to whom the professional is liable; (3) the amount of damages for each consumer or category of consumers; and (4) the publicity measures that the professional will have to take to invite consumers who may be affected to join the group within a practical time limit. The Court also may order investigation measures, and a second judgment may be necessary if any difficulty related to the implementation of the first ruling arises. To this end, at any time during the course of the proceedings, the judge may order any legally permissible investigatory measure necessary to preserve evidence and documents, including those being held by the professional.

A simplified procedure was created that may be used when the number and identity of the victims are known and damages suffered are of a similar amount. The Court may order the professional to compensate victims directly and individually. It may also direct advertising measures once the decision becomes final but before its execution, in order to allow consumers to accept to be indemnified in the terms of the decision.

Both the regular and the simplified procedures are "opt-in" procedures through which consumers affected by some professionals' practices have to take positive measures to join the class and be indemnified under the judgment's terms.

The new consumers' rights law is available here.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

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