A new consumer protection bill introduced by the Minster of the Economy in France looks set to pave the way for a Gallic twist on class action lawsuits. With the aim of reinforcing consumer rights and providing an effective way to ensure the ideal of “economic citizenship,” the measure is based upon nine core factors that aim to find the balance between consumers and businesses.
There remain several key differences in the possible French system and that which exists in the U.S.
The legal and cultural landscape of France is, of course, very different to the U.S. French law has no provisions for punitive damages and individual actions are, almost without exception, the norm in a legal system where judges are appointed, rather than elected, and no civil court accepts jurors. At the same time, a growing movement to introduce class action-style lawsuits has received the backing of Presidents Chirac (in 2005) and Sarkozy (in 2007), while a public consultation in 2013 led to a first draft of a bill proposing the creation of action de groupe.
There remain several key differences in the possible French system and that which exists in the U.S. While class action lawsuits can be filed by individuals here, the proposed French lawsuits will only be provided to registered and nationwide consumer associations.
In other words, there will be no lawyers involved during initial filing and early stages of the actions.
It’s a system that’s modeled much more on the Canadian Quebec system than that of the U.S. It would give judges sole control over deciding claims’ quality, as well as the ability to dismiss speculative actions. The group actions would also, the government insists, offer consumers a new means of accessing the judicial system without changing individual rights or granting them new ones.
In a way the group action is only a halfway step towards anything like U.S. class action lawsuits, which some might see as too broad and open to abuse. The French proposal, along with removing punitive damages, would also be strictly limited to consumers’ property and damage which occurred “during the sale of goods or the provision of a service”, as well as anti-competitive agreements. Public health cases and environmental issues are not covered. This may stem from the fact that the public consultation was with the National Council of Consumption, a union of representatives of consumer and business associations who, along with the government, are wary that the lawsuits may be open to abuse. As it is, the group actions will be limited to offering compensation for serial damages from a common origin, caused by non-performance or non-compliance relating to a sale or service.