The litigation environment in France may be rapidly worsening with a number of new class action laws that recently passed. France's true class action regime started in 2014 with the passage of a bill allowing for opt-in class actions on antitrust/competition and consumer protection.
In March 2014, President Hollande signed into law a bill allowing class action lawsuits through an "opt-in" system for cases of antitrust infringement or breaches of French consumer protection law; it became effective in October 2014. The bill gives certain government-approved representative associations (of which there are currently 15) a right to initiate group actions on behalf of individual consumers who may have been harmed in such cases. The current law provides for compensation of material loss/damage (excluding non-pecuniary loss and punitive damages) suffered by consumers in competition and consumer/contractual laws and obligations.
Following suit, in 2016, a new class action law on health related matters passed. Among other features, the law allows close to 500 national and regional health patient associations to seek redress for personal/bodily injuries caused by certain health products (including pharmaceuticals, medical devices, and blood products) and cosmetic and contact lenses products listed in the French Code of Public Health. The new law, which is fully retroactive, will become effective by July 2016. This law does not include addictive products like tobacco and alcohol.
In July 2015, the former French Minister of Justice presented a legislative proposal on "21st Century Justice," which includes a common procedural framework for all existing and future class action laws, as well as a new class action proposal on all forms of discrimination, including in the workplace. However, this proposal, which has changed names to "Group Action and Judicial Organization," is now on hold. It is not clear whether the new minister of justice will pursue this legislation or whether it will be changed or simply abandoned.
Earlier in 2016, in a pending environmental legislative proposal, the Senate introduced a class action amendment, which would allow certain government-approved representative associations a right to initiate actions on behalf of individuals who may have been harmed in environmental cases. The amendment, which contains few procedural details, provides for compensation or personal/bodily and material injuries.
Meanwhile, the National Assembly has included a collective redress amendment to a comprehensive data protection/privacy legislative proposal. This amendment would allow designated data privacy protection and consumer associations, and other non-governmental entities to bring injunctive actions.
In 2015 the French National Assembly initiated a corporate social responsibility (CSR) legislative proposal based on the controversial United Nations "Ruggie principles." The bill would impose a "duty of vigilance" and new expanded liabilities on multinational companies with operations or sub-contracted activities in developing countries. The new law would make mandatory the otherwise voluntary Ruggie principles, which purport to address human rights issues. The French law, which in effect would open the door to transnational cases in French courts, is particularly targeting environmental and labor condition issues. The proposal was rejected by the French Senate and went back before the National Assembly, which passed the proposal and sent it back again to the French Senate. The bill is now pending.