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Liability of defective products

Liability of defective products

If a product bought in the EU is damaged or doesn't work, EU consumers can ask for compensation. Since 1985, product liability legislation has been in place that aims to maintain a fair balance between the interests of consumers and producers. 

EU legislation on liability for defective products:

If a defective product causes any damage to consumers or their property, the producer has to provide compensation irrespectively of whether there is negligence or fault on their part.

Which products fall under the legislation?

This legislation applies to any product marketed in the European Economic Area. Compensation for material damage is limited to goods for private use or consumption with a lower threshold of €500. It sets out a time limit of 3 years for the recovery of damages and forbids clauses limiting or excluding the liability of the producer. It is the injured party's responsibility to prove the damage, the defect and the causal relationship between defect and damage for the purpose of compensation. 

Rights of producers

Producers can be cleared of liability under certain conditions, notably, if they prove that:

  • they did not put the product into circulation
  • the defect was due to the compliance of the product with mandatory regulations issued by public authorities
  • the state of scientific or technical knowledge at the time the product was put into circulation could not detect the defect.

Commission actions

The European Commission follows developments in case-law by the EU Court of Justice, analyses the information and complaints received, and reports on the application of the Directive to the Council of the European Union and the European Parliament every 5 years. 4 application reports have already been submitted and the 5th report, covering the period 2011-2015, will be submitted in 2017. 

As the Directive has not been subject to any evaluation since its adoption, the Commission has decided to conduct an evaluation of the Directive, which will be supported by an external study. The evaluation is foreseen for 2017. 

The evaluation will involve an evidence-based assessment of whether the Directive is 'fit for purpose', particularly where new technological developments are concerned. 

The evaluation will assess the Directive according to 5 criteria:

  1. effectiveness (have the objectives been met)?
  2. efficiency (were the costs involved reasonable)?
  3. coherence (does the Directive complement other actions or are there contradictions)?
  4. relevance (is EU action still necessary)?
  5. EU added value (did the Directive provide clear added value or could similar changes have been achieved at national level)?
 
As part of the evaluation, the Commission has launched a public consultation on the evaluation of Directive 85/374/EEC (deadline 26 April 2017). The aim of this consultation is to collect stakeholders' feedback on the application and performance of the Directive. Including how this relates to challenges raised by new technological developments.

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