The French Consumer Law N° 2014-344 was finally enacted on
17 March 2014. The new legislation introduces class actions into
the French legal system and more specifically into competition law
matters. Class actions are covered by Articles 1 and 2 of the
Unlike class actions in the United States which provide for an
"opt-out" procedure, class actions in France are based
only on an "opt-in" system whereby consumers need to
express their consent to be part of the group and to be compensated
after a judgment has been rendered on liability.
The scope of class actions has been exclusively limited to
consumer and competition law violations. Class actions are limited
to addressing the material and financial harms suffered by
individual consumers when purchasing a product or when being
provided with a service. Failure by a professional person to
correctly execute his legal or contractual obligations is also
covered by the law. On the other hand, damages claimed pursuant to
physical and moral harm are excluded from the scope of the class
action. The jurisdiction over class actions is granted exclusively
to civil courts (Tribunaux de Grande Instance).
Concerning the specific conditions applicable to competition law
violations, associations can only bring class action suits after a
ruling from the competent authorities (whether national or
European) finding a competition law infringement, after all appeals
on the finding of the violation have been exhausted. The time
period during which consumers can seek compensation is five years
from the date on which the decision finding the violation is no
longer appealable as regards the finding of the violation.
Class actions can only be introduced by one of the 16 accredited
consumer rights organisations acting on behalf of at least 2
consumers. In practice, the procedure will operate in 4 stages. In
a first ruling, the court will determine the liability of the
professional on the basis of individual cases brought by the
association. It will also determine the criteria by which consumers
may receive compensation and the amount of such compensation. The
decision will state the timeframe within which consumers may join
the group: no less than 2 months and no more than 6 months. In the
second stage, the company or the consumer association will
"invite" injured consumers to step forward to receive
compensation. At this stage, the professional will be able to
verify or object to the consumer's claim for compensation. In a
third stage, the association will receive the financial
compensation awarded by the judge on behalf of the members of the
group, will put the amount into escrow with the Caisse des
dépôts et consignations (the French sovereign
fund) and will then allocate the amounts to each individual group
member. In a last stage, any difficulties related to the
implementation of the judgment on liability (the "liquidation
phase"), will be resolved by the same court in a second
Further, a simplified procedure may be followed in specific
cases. When consumers are identified and their number is known, the
judge can rule on the professional's liability and order the
professional to compensate directly and individually the consumers
within a time period and under conditions set by the court.
Finally, the association may decide to settle the case by
mediation. If the court approves the agreement, the court will
enter a binding judgment on the mediating parties.
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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