Details – expert information

Product Liability


Objectives of the Directive

The Directive 85/374/EEC on liability for defective products (Product Liability Directive) seeks to ensure that:

  • Products introduced to the EU market are safe;
  • Innovation is strengthened;
  • Consumers who suffer injury because of defective products are able to claim compensation when damage occurs.

The main challenge, in the age of digitalization, lies in a fair balance of risks between consumer, distributor and producer.

Statistics on Product Liability: product categories concerned

Within the period 2000-2016, the recurrence of claims in the EU, subject to national case law, can be clustered by different product categories1:

  • 52% of the claims are related to three product categories;
    • Raw materials (21%);
    • Pharmaceutical products (16%);
    • Vehicles (15%).
  • Nuclear reactors, boilers, machinery and mechanical appliances amounted to more than 12%;
  • Although involving lesser percentages, the following sectors are also represented:
    • Chemicals (7%);
    • Agricultural goods (7%);
    • Electrical machinery and equipment and others (6%);
    • Food & beverage (3%);
    • Clothes and accessories (2%);
    • Cosmetics (nearly 2%).

[1] Final Report on Evaluation of Council Directive 85/374/EEC on the approximation of laws, regulations and administrative provisions of the Member States concerning liability for defective products, EU publications, 05.07.2018, p.20

Systems used to settle claims²

Directive-related claims are settled through direct negotiation in 46% of the cases, whereas 32% are resolved in court and 15% through alternative dispute resolution (ADR) systems. Only a small share (7%) of the claims under the Directive are settled through other means, such as settlements with the insurer of the responsible entity.

Broken down per Member State, 60% or more of the claims are settled:

  • In court in Estonia, France, Poland, Romania and Finland;
  • Through alternative dispute resolution mechanisms, such as arbitration, mediation, negotiation, conciliation or other mechanisms provided for by national legislation in Bulgaria, Greece, Lithuania;
  • Through direct negotiation in Czechia, Croatia, Italy, Hungary, Cyprus, Portugal and Sweden;
  • Through settlement with the insurer, in Slovenia.

[2] Final Report on Evaluation of Council Directive 85/374/EEC on the approximation of laws, regulations and administrative provisions of the Member States concerning liability for defective products, published on 05.07.2018, p.18

Number of claims over the years

The following table shows the development by number of claims per year from the year 2000 to 2016, adjusted per new Member State entries.

The graphic shows the development by number of claims per year from the year two thousand to two thousand and sixteen, adjusted per new Member State entries. From thirty claims in the year two thousand, the number has risen to almost sixty claims in two thousand and sixteen. The peak was in two thousand and fifteen with sixty claims. Most claims come from within the EU seventeen, whereas the number of claims from two thousand and four entries, as well as Bulgaria, Romania and Hungary has risen over time, beginning in two thousand and one and now making up roughly a quarter to a third of all claims.
Source: Study for the evaluation of Directive 85/374/EEC in 2018, p. 22
Other related legal frameworks

Other legal initiatives demonstrate the EU's strategic, permanent interest in product safety. The responsibilities of economic operators are also notably addressed by the precautionary principle, the General Product Safety Directive, the Product Safety and Market Surveillance Package.

Current research

August Debouzy: Product Liability in France [Only accessible for EJF Members]

Besides an introduction of “What happens if a product is defective?” the document covers two further subjects. On one side the current liability regime for defective products in France. On the other side the future of liability regimes for defective products in France.

August Debouzy: The prospects of Product Safety regulation [Only accessible for EJF Members]

This paper describes in a first step the current system in France. This part covers the objectives of The General Product Safety Directive (GPSD), the Regulation No 765/2008 on market surveillance. Moreover, an overview concerning obligations of Member States and Supervisory Authorities are given with specific focus on French Authorities. The second part refers to the prospects and includes a view on Artificial Intelligence/Machine Learning. Examples relate to European car manufacturer and medical products.

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The European Justice Forum (EJF) welcomes the nomination of Commissioner Didier Reynders and Vice-President Jourová responsible for legal affairs under the new European Commission. EJF is looking forward to an engaging dialogue with the Commissioners, Directorate Generals and Commission’s officials.

President of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, unveiled on 10 September 2019 her team and the structure of the next College of Commissioners, which presents a gender-balanced composition for the first time of its history.

Belgian Minister Didier Reynders has been nominated as Commissioner for Justice. He will be supported by the Directorate General for Justice.

As Commissioner for Justice, Didier Reynders will be responsible for a number of issues, divided between upholding the rule of law and improving justice and consumer protection. For the latter, he will notably be responsible for:

  • Leading the work on consumer protection, notably for cross-border and online transactions;
  • Facilitating and improving judicial cooperation between Member States;
  • Using new digital technologies to improve the efficiency and functioning of the European justice systems;
  • Contributing to the legislation on a coordinated approach on the human and ethical implications of artificial intelligence.

Didier Reynders will work towards reaching these objectives under the guidance of the Vice-President for Values and Transparency, Věra Jourová. Věra Jourová, who was previously Commissioner for Justice, Consumers and Gender Equality under the Juncker European Commission (2014-2019), will now be in charge of strengthening and fostering European values of transparency, democracy and inclusiveness.

EJF stands ready to support the new Commission’s political leadership in achieving a successful mandate ensuring that “our Union is a place of equality, fairness and social justice”, as per the ambition of Commission President von der Leyen.