Cour de Cassation
National case details
Registration ID: 19-18.689
Instance: Cassation (review)
Case status: Final
Area of law
Identification of the case
- Law No. 98-389 of 19 May 1998 on liability for defective products (Civil Code art. 1245)
- Council Directive 85/374/EEC of 25 July 1985 on the approximation of the laws, regulations and administrative provisions of the Member States concerning liability for defective products
Summary of the case
In 2004, a farmer accidentally inhaled the vapours of an herbicide that he had purchased from an agricultural cooperative, marketed by the French company Monsanto, until its withdrawal from the market in 2007. This led to serious intoxication with neuronal and respiratory damage. The farmer sued Monsanto for compensation.
In 2015, the Court of Appeal of Lyon found that Monsanto had failed to inform of the risks associated with inhaling the herbicide and the precautions for its use. This judgment was censured in 2017 by the Court of Cassation (Ch. mixte, 7 July 2017, n° 15-25.651) which considered that the action should have been brought on the basis of liability for defective products, which it qualified as "rules of public policy of the European Union" imposing to the judge the obligation to requalify the legal basis of the claim, even if these rules were not invoked by the plaintiff. This decision established the principle that the judge must examine ex officio the applicability of product liability to the dispute resulting from law n° 98-389 of 19 May 1998 transposing the Directive of 25 July 1985 and now codified in articles 1245 and following of the Civil Code.
The case was retried by a decision of the Lyon Court of Appeal on 11 April 2019. The company was found liable for the farmer's poisoning on the basis of Law No. 98-389 of 19 May 1998 on liability for defective products (Civil code art. 1245), which transposed Council Directive 85/374/EEC of 25 July 1985 on the approximation of the laws, regulations and administrative provisions of the Member States concerning liability for defective products. The Court of Appeal was able to deduce from the evidence in the file that the company had put the product into circulation after the 1998 transposition law had come into force, that it presented itself as the producer on the product label, that a safety defect was characterised by insufficient labelling, that the links between the inhalation of the product and the bodily injury, as well as between the product's defect and the injury, were established by serious, precise and concordant evidence and that the company could not rely on either a development risk or a contributory fault of the victim.
Monsanto appealed against this decision.
- Civil judicial enforcement
Liability of the producer for defective products.
This appeal was rejected by the Court of Cassation, which held that the liability regime for defective products was applicable.
The Court of Cassation confirmed the reasoning of the Court of Appeal. It specifies, under Article 1245-10, 4° of the Civil Code, transposing Article 7 of the aforementioned Directive, and a decision of the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU 29 May 1997 Commission v. United Kingdom, C-300/95) that "in order to be released from liability (...), the producer of a defective product must establish that the objective state of technical and scientific knowledge, including its most advanced level, at the time the product in question was put into circulation, did not make it possible to detect the defect in it". The producer is therefore automatically liable unless he proves that the state of scientific and technical knowledge, at the time he put the product into circulation, did not allow the existence of the defect to be detected.
In view of the elements of fact and evidence, and after having set the date of release of the product in July 2002, the Court of cassation stated that the regulations on the basis of which the existence of a defect was retained, established that Monsanto was fully entitled to know about the defect linked to the labelling of the product and to the absence of a warning on the particular danger of the work. It concluded that the company could not benefit from an exemption from liability.
The company was thus definitively and fully declared liable on the basis of liability for defective products.