French law of obligations

Jean-Philippe is in need of legal advice. He wishes to obtain compensation from two parties, and his friend Dominic wishes to sue him. Firstly, Jean-Philippe was injured by an exploding gas cylinder at his friend Frani oise’s party. He does not wish to sue his friend, however still seeks compensation. Secondly, his friend Dominic leant upon a glass door, which shattered under his weight. Thirdly, Jean-Philippe’s son, Michel, was injured by an object, caught in a gust of wind, thrown by his friend Antoine.

Jean-Philippe wishes to sue Antoine’s Uncle and Aunt, rather than his parents, as they were looking after him at the time. For each of these situations, it would be difficult to prove fault under Article 1382 of the Civil Code; however, liability under Article 1384 would be a more suitable approach. Article 1384 al. 1, of the Code Civil states that: “One is liable not only for the harm which one causes by one’s own deed, but also for that which is caused by the deed of persons for whom one is responsible, or of things which one has in one’s keeping”.

There is more to Article 1384, which will be discussed in more depth later. In this case, I will advise Jean-Philippe on each of these three situations. The case will be approached in two main parts, each with two sub-sections. Firstly, (I) Liability for the Deeds of Things (La Responsabiliti?? du fait des Choses) will be split into (A) Garde (Control), and (B) Causation. Secondly, (II) Liability for the Actions of Another Person (La Responsabiliti?? du fait d’Autrui) will be split into (A) Special Liability for Parents and (B) A Possible Defence.

(I) Liability for the Deeds of Things (La Responabiliti?? du fait des Choses) This is included in Article 1384 al. 1 of the Code Civil (above). (A) Garde (Control) Article 1384, ‘imposes liability for the deeds of things within one’s keeping or control (Garde). According to L’arri?? t Jand’heur, there is no need to prove fault, only responsibility. All physical things are governed by Article 1384, including the gas cylinder and the glass door. Article 1384 is not restricted solely to dangerous or defective items.

To establish the ‘garde’, we must fist explore who ‘la gardien’ is. 2 Firstly, the gas cylinder situation. According to L’arri?? t Franck and Dame Lychet (1975). “The hirer of an object, whether movable or immovable becomes the ‘gardien’ in substitution for the person who lets it”. 3 We must note that the luncheon equipment within the barge was technically hired equipment. Therefore in this situation, the ‘garde’ would be transferred on hire to Frani?? oise. 4 However, the position is more complicated, and I fact, the courts have recognised that the ‘garde’ can be divided.

The two areas that it can be divided into are (a) gardien du comportement (who is responsible for harm caused by the thing’s handling) and (b) gardien de la structure (who is responsible for harm caused by defects). 6 The definition of ‘thing’ in this situation would be ‘an object, within its own dynamism, capable of manifesting itself in a dangerous way’. 7 Jean – Philippe must show that the gas cylinder was structurally defective in order to sue the supplier as the (Gardien de la Structure), or the hiring company, or even the manufacturer.

The burden of proof lies with the plaintiff. 8 However, if Frani?? oise handled the gas cylinder incorrectly and it was in fact her fault, then he may only be able to receive damages from the Gardien de Comportement, who is Frani?? oise. Secondly, Jean-Philippe has ‘garde’ over the glass door. However, as an inert object, the causal role must be established. 9 (B) Causation Normally, in order for a ‘harm’ to be caused, a ‘chose’ (thing) is needed, unless it is a case of an assault, which is premeditated. It is important to note that the glass door is not moving.

It is stationary. The injured party, Dominic, must show that the door played an ‘active’ role or was ‘abnormal’ in causing the harm, in order to sue Jean-Philippe. Jean-Philippe may be able to show Dominic’s contributory fault in the situation by his leaning on the door. This would mean that his own carelessness caused the accident. 10 However, Dominic may be able to show that the glass door was abnormally, dangerously, defectively, or badly placed. 11 If it is badly placed and dangerous due to the result of something that Jean-Philippe did, or did not do, then he can be sued.

However, if the glass is faulty due to the manufacturing of the product, then Dominic may be able to sue the manufacturer. We must note that there is no contractual relationship between Jean-Philippe and Dominic and there is no recognised relationship under 1384 between the two. Jean-Philippe would not be able to escape liability by showing himself innocent of fault. An internal defect would not be ‘force majeure’ (a supervening force).

(II) Liability for the Actions of Another Person (La Responsabiliti?? du fait d’Autrui) Article 1384 al.1 of the Civil Code announces that a person may be liable for another person’s actions. (A) Special Liability for Parents There are three situations in which a person can be liable for another person’s actions13: (i) Parents for minor children who live with them (ii) Teachers and craftsmen for pupils and apprentices (iii) Masters and principles for servants and agents This case only concerns the first of these situations, that of, parents for minor children who live with them. These parents would be liable for harm caused by their child. There is no need to show fault14, as the child may not be aware of what he/she is doing.

Only that the act wrongfully caused the harm need be shown. 15 In this situation, Jean-Philippe wishes to sue Antoine’s Aunt and Uncle (rather than his parents) as “it was they who had taken the boys to the beach and Antoine was staying with them at the time of the accident”. 16 However, this is not possible directly under Article 1384 as the Aunt and Uncle’s relationship with Antoine is not one of the ‘special’ relationships mentioned above. Therefore, Jean-Philippe must sue Antoine’s parents. In order for us to use Article 1384, we must first establish the following:

(i) Antoine is a minor (ii) Antoine was living with his parents We are aware that Antoine is a minor, as he is eleven years old, and therefore under the age of eighteen. However, the fact that he was living with his Aunt and Uncle and therefore under their supervision may cause a problem. Jean-Philippe would most likely get some compensation from Antoines’parents as they may have “assurance chef de famille”. This is a form of family insurance, which would cover Antoine’s parent for this accident. 18 However, Jean-Philippe wishes to sue the Aunt and Uncle. This may be possible.

Before 1991, the courts refused to admit liability for another person’s actions outside the instances enumerated in Article 1384 of the Civil Code. However, after “l’arrit Blieck” (1991), it was established that perhaps liability for another person’s actions outside the code might extend to childminders, tutors and grand parents. 19 Therefore, perhaps, the Aunt and Uncle may be liable following this case. This is a demonstration of the adventurous nature of the French courts. (B) A Possible Defence One final aspect that has not been covered is that of ‘the sudden gust of wind’.

The object thrown by Antoine was caught by a sudden gust of wind. This may be a supervening force, known in French Law as ‘force majeure’. There are three criteria to be satisfied in order to establish ‘force majeure’. 20 The event must be: (i) unpreventable (ii) unforeseeable (iii) exterior In order to decide whether the defence of ‘force majeure’ would be valid, all three conditions must be satisfied. A gust of wind is unpreventable, unforeseeable and exterior, therefore the ‘force majeure’ defence would most likely be valid and Jean-Philippe would not be able to sue the Aunt and Uncle or Antoine’s parents.

Therefore I would not recommend that Antoine take any legal action as it would most likely fail, and he would not get any damages21. However in the case of Lamoricire, the damages were reduced to one-fifth by ‘force majeure’. However, it would be unlikely in a case like this. Contributory fault would not be applicable in this situation as a defence.


Principles of French Law – John Bell, Sophie Boyron, Simon Whittaker – Oford University Press – 1998 French Law of Obligations – Class Notes – Dr. S Field.