The Hamon Consumer bill was finally passed on 13 February 2014, providing France with its first true class action mechanism, and bringing to a close previously unsuccessful attempts by the legislator.
The action may be brought only before the first instance civil courts (“Tribunaux de Grande instance”) by nationally representative consumer protection associations. The aim of such an action is to indemnify harm sustained to property by consumers who are in a similar situation, and caused by the failings of the same professionals.
The procedure is divided into two main steps:
- A judicial phase leading to a judgment that:
i) Determines the group of affected consumers and the connection criteria,
ii) Rules on the liability of the professionals on the basis of the cases submitted by the consumers association, and
iii) Sets out the calculation of damages per consumer.
- A non-judicial phase during which affected consumers can join the class to be compensated, after publication of the judgment.
- This action differs notably from its American counterpart as it involves an “opt-in” mechanism where only consumers who voluntarily joined the class are compensated.
- A simplified procedure allows for swift compensation of affected consumers when their identities and number are known.
- The bill also reinforces consumers’ rights where affected by anti-competitive practices. This specific type of class action provides for a complementary mechanism also known as “follow-on”. In this case, action can only be brought on the basis of a decision ruling on anti-competitive practice, within a period of five years from the date on which the infringement was definitely established.
- Finally, the law introduces “group mediation”, very similar - albeit more restrictive - to the existing and time-tested “collective mediation”, aimed at encouraging the professionals and associations to seek a faster and safer amicable solution than litigation.
As an appeal was brought before the Conseil Constitutionnel on February 17 regarding the constitutionality of the bill, promulgation should not be expected before the end of March, provided that the bill is declared constitutional. A decree of the Conseil d’Etat shall then describe the practical aspects of the class action mechanism.
You will find attached a synoptic table providing an overview of this new type of proceedings, which we hope you will find useful. To download the table, please click here
Our Dispute Resolution and Competition teams are available to answer any questions you may have about this new type of legal action.