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Published online by Cambridge University Press:  11 August 2008

Paula Giliker
Reader in Comparative Law, University of Bristol.


This article deals with a topic at the heart of modern comparative law: codification of private law on a national and European level. It offers a critical assessment of the recent French attempt to redraft the obligations provisions of its civil code, focusing on the revisions to the law of tort or delict. There has been little analysis of these provisions within or outside France. This article examines the key changes proposed and identifies the implications in terms of tort policy.

Copyright © 2008 British Institute of International and Comparative Law

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1 See <> subsequently referred to as ‘Avant-projet’. The report was presented to the Minister of Justice by the President of the Reform Commission, Professor Pierre Catala in September 2005. The project is also referred to as the Avant-projet Catala.

2 C Van Dam, European Tort Law (OUP, Oxford, 2007) 603-2. See H Koziol, ‘Comparative Law—A Must in the European Union: Demonstrated by Tort law as an Example’ (2007) 1 Journal of Tort Law, Article 5.

3 New Articles 1102–1326-2.

4 See, generally, B Fauvarque-Cosson, ‘Towards a New French Law of Obligations and Prescription? About the “Avant-projet de réforme du droit des obligations et de la prescription’ (2007) 15 Zeitschrift für Europäisches Privatrecht 428 (who places the reforms in context); B Fauvarque-Cosson and D Mazeaud, ‘L'avant-projet français de réforme du droit des obligations et du droit de la prescription’ [2006] Revue de droit uniforme 103; and J Cartwright, S Vogenauer and S Whittaker (eds), Reforming the French Law of Obligations: Comparative Reflections on the Avant-projet de réforme du droit des obligations et de la prescription (‘the Avant-projet Catala’) (Hart, Oxford, forthcoming 2008), which is the first publication to introduce the reform proposals to an English-speaking audience. Readers should note, in particular, the papers resulting from two conferences in October 2005 and May 2006, which may be found in volume 1 of the 2006 and 2007 Revue des contrats. See also, more recently, G Rouhette, ‘Regard sur l'avant-projet de réforme du droit des obligations’ [2007] Revue des contrats 1371.

5 The major amendment to the tort provisions came in the late 20th century to take account of the Product Liability Directive of 1985: Articles 1386-1–1386-18, based on Directive 85/374: loi no 98–389 of 19 May 1998 and loi no 2004-1343 of 9 December 2004. Other statutory amendments include changes to liability for fires (loi 7 November 1922), parental responsibility (loi no 70–459 of 4 June 1970 and loi no 2002-305 of 4 March 2002), and schoolteachers and artisans (loi 5 April 1937).

6 P Catala, ‘General presentation of the Reform Proposals’ Avant-projet (n 1) 12, 16. He also recognizes that the reform was triggered not simply by the bicentenary celebrations for the Code, but a symposium comparing French law with the Lando Principles of European Contract Law.

7 Whittaker has commented: ‘The breadth of these provisions is truly staggering. They do not make use of a concept approaching our own duty of care in the tort of negligence … Even more surprising, French law does not rule out from these delictual liabilities any particular type of harm’: S Whittaker, ‘Privity of contract and the law of tort: the French experience’ (1995) 15 OJLS 327, 331.

8 Known as l'école de l'exégèse. See, generally, J Bonnecase, L'Ecole de l'Exégèse en Droit Civil (1st edn, Euvrard-Pichat, Paris 1919) and (2nd edn, Euvrard-Pichat, Paris, 1924), but note modern reappraisals of this period: P Rémy, ‘Eloge de l'Exégèse’ [1982] RRJ 254; and P Jestaz and C Jamin, La doctrine (Dalloz, Paris, 2004). P Malaurie and P Morvan, Introduction générale (2nd edn, Defrénois, Paris, 2005) argue at No 113 that ‘in breaking with the pre-revolutionary law, they encouraged the essential qualities which la doctrine française has inherited: clarity, unity and harmony’.

9 All translations of the current Civil Code are taken from Légifrance: <> (translation by G Rouhette with the assistance of A Rouhette-Berton). See, generally, J Bell, S Boyron and S Whittaker, Principles of French Law (OUP, Oxford, 1998) 357–71; FH Lawson and BS Markesinis, Tortious liability for Unintentional Harm in the Common Law and the Civil Law (CUP, Cambridge, 1982) vol 2, 185–86; and the leading French text: G Viney and P Jourdain, Les conditions de la responsabilité (3rd edn, LGDJ, Paris, 2006).

10 See A Tunc, ‘Methodology of the civil law in France’ (1976) 50 Tulane Law Review 459. The detailed Titre IV bis, De la responsabilité des produits défectueux (Articles 1386-1–1386-18) is hardly representative of the style of the Code. A contrast may be drawn with the very different drafting style of the German Civil Code (BGB) which is characterized by its technical and conceptual sophistication. German law considered and rejected the inclusion of a general clause in the Bürgerliches Gesetzbuch (BGB) of 1900, favouring a detailed list of protected interests stated, together with a requirement of unlawfulness: see K Zweigert and H Kötz, An Introduction to Comparative Law (3rd edn, Clarendon Press, Oxford, 1998) 598–99.

11 As Bell, Boyron and Whittaker comment, ‘[Articles 1382 and 1383] are most noticeable for what they do not say, rather than what they do’: Bell, Boyron and Whittaker (n 9) 357.

12 Article 5: ‘Judges are forbidden to decide cases submitted to them by way of general and regulatory provisions’.

13 See Portalis, ‘Discours préliminaire prononcé lors de la présentation du projet de la Commission du gouvernement’ in PA Fenet, Recueil complet des travaux préparatoires du Code civil (O Zeller, Osnabrück, 1968 (republication of the 1827 edition)) I, 469. See further, J Gordley, ‘Myths of the French Civil Code’ (1994) 42 American Journal of Comparative Law 459.

14 Ch réun 13 February 1930 DP 1930.1.57 note G Ripert, rapport Le Marc'hadour; S 1930.1.121 note P Esmein.

15 ‘Whilst the presumption of liability established by [Article 1384(1)] towards the person who has in his custody the inanimate object which has caused harm to another can only be rebutted by proof of a cas fortuit or force majeure or a cause étrangère which is not attributable to him … the law … does not distinguish depending on whether the thing which has caused the harm was or was not activated by human conduct.’ All non-codal translations are my own.

16 In other words, cas fortuit, force majeure, or cause étrangère not attributable to the defendant. The most common being contributory negligence by the victim.

17 Ass plén 29 March 1991 D 1991.324 note C Larroumet, chr G Viney p 157, JCP 1991 II 21673, concl H Dontenwille, note J Ghestin.

18 ‘(1) A person is liable not only for the damages he causes by his own act, but also for that which is caused by the acts of persons for whom he is responsible, or by things which are in his custody’ (emphasis added).

19 See P Jestaz and C Jamin, La doctrine (Dalloz, Paris, 2004).

20 From 1985, traffic accidents have been dealt with by a specific statute which imposes strict liability on drivers. As a result, a major source of tortious injuries is dealt with outside the Code: see loi 85–677, 5 July 1985.

21 See, for example, the treatment of exécution en nature (specific performance) and damages in Articles 1142, 1143 and 1144 C civ.

22 And inevitably the lack of impact of the Code in European matters: see P Rémy-Corlay and D Fenouillet (eds), Les concepts contractuels français à l'heure des Principes du droit européen des contrats (Dalloz, Paris, 2003). The bicentenary has resulted in numerous publications: see, for example, D Fairgrieve, The Influence of the French Civil Code on the Common Law and Beyond (British Institute of International and Comparative Law, London, 2007); and G Canivet et al, Les Français et leur Code civil (Journal Officiel, 2004).

23 New Article 1349.

24 New Articles 1354–1354-4.

25 Thereby deleting Article 1384(6). Article 1386 (liability for ruined buildings) is also omitted from the Avant-projet as outdated: see (n 1) 163, fn 1.

26 G Viney, Exposé de motifs to Sub-Title III, Avant-projet (n 1) 163: ‘accorder le droit positif aux exigences de la vie contemporaine’, referring expressly to new Articles 1358, 1360, 1362, 1371, 1373 and 1379-7. All translations of the Avant-projet are taken from the excellent English translation by John Cartwright and Simon Whittaker, accessible at <>.

27 Catala describes in his Préface that one of the aims is: ‘Renforcer la position du droit écrit français dans le concert européen et auprès des nombreux pays qui ont manifesté, lors du bicentenaire, leur attachement aux valeurs qu'il porte’ in Avant-projet de réforme du droit des obligations et de la prescription (La Documentation Française, 2006).

28 See Conseil National des Barreaux (Projet de rapport du groupe de travail chargé d'étudier l'avant-projet de réforme du droit des obligations et du droit de la prescription, November 2006: <>) 5. See also the 2007 Rapport du groupe de travail de la Cour de cassation Sur l'avant-projet de réforme du droit des obligations et de la prescription (<>) paras 3–4.

29 See F Terré, P Simler and Y Lequette, Droit civil. Les obligations (9th edn, Dalloz, Paris, 2005) Nos 717 ff.

30 See Civ 28 February 1910 DP 1913.1.43, S 1911.1.329, note G Appert.

31 For an excellent comparative account of the nature of ‘faute’, see S Whittaker, Liability for Products: English Law, French Law and European Harmonisation (OUP, Oxford, 2005) 40–50.

32 ‘Any act whatever of man, which causes damage to another, obliges the one by whose fault it occurred, to compensate it.’ Article 1383 indicates that ‘faute’ consists of intentional and negligent misconduct.

33 Controversially, it is extended in Article 1353 to organizational or operational fault (‘défaut d'organisation’ or ‘de fonctionnement’)—a concept borrowed from administrative law, but considered a ‘useful’ addition to private law. This extends liability beyond individual fault, signifying the clear objectification of ‘faute’, but one may question whether a concept, developed in relation to the collective responsibility of administrative bodies, is as well-suited to private law matters.

34 See (revised final version as at November 2006).

35 See Principles of European Tort Law: Text and Commentary (Springer, Wien, 2005) available online at <>.

36 Article 3:102 provides: ‘A person causes legally relevant damage negligently when that person causes the damage by conduct which either: (a) does not meet the particular standard of care provided by a statutory provision whose purpose is the protection of the injured person from the damage suffered, or (b) does not otherwise amount to such care as could be expected from a reasonably careful person in the circumstances of the case.’ Intention is defined at Article 3:101: ‘A person causes legally relevant damage intentionally when that person causes such damage either: (a) meaning to cause damage of the type caused; or (b) by conduct which that person means to do, knowing that such damage, or damage of that type, will or will almost certainly be caused.’

37 Article 4:102 (Required standard of conduct). Paragraph (2) adds that ‘[t]he above standard may be adjusted when due to age, mental or physical disability or due to extraordinary circumstances the person cannot be expected to conform to it.’ See also ‘(3) Rules which prescribe or forbid certain conduct have to be considered when establishing the required standard of conduct.’

38 Explanatory notes, para 17.

39 For example, R Herbert, ‘The Compensation Act 2006’ [2006] JPIL 337, 338.

40 JS Borghetti, ‘La définition de la faute dans l'avant-projet de réforme du droit des obligations’ (forthcoming). The translation is my own.

41 ‘Ce texte qui se présente comme une annonce de textes ultérieurs’: Avant-projet (n 1) 171, fn 1.

42 See Articles 1149, 1163–66.

43 See Conseil National des Barreaux (Projet de rapport du groupe de travail chargé d'étudier l'avant-projet de réforme du droit des obligations et du droit de la prescription, November 2006: <>). See also the 2007 Rapport du groupe de travail de la Cour de cassation sur l'avant-projet de réforme du droit des obligations et de la prescription (<>) para 67, which also is concerned that the concept of ‘abnormality’ might be developed into an independent head of liability.

44 Notably, l'arrêt Teffaine (Civ 18 June 1896 S 1897.1.17 note A Esmein, D 1897.1.433, concl Sarrut, note Saleilles) and l'arrêt Jand'heur, mentioned earlier.

45 Notably, l'arrêt Blieck, mentioned earlier. Such developments are not confined to the law of delict. Contract law has imposed strict liability by means of contractual terms (obligations de résultat and sécurité) to ensure victims compensation: see F Terré, P Simler and Y Lequette, Droit civil. Les obligations (9th edn, Dalloz, Paris 2005) No 580.

46 J Bell, French Legal Cultures (Butterworths, London, 2001) 68–69.

47 Avant-projet (n 1) 176.

48 Cass civ 24 April 2003 Bulletin 2003, II, n° 115, p. 99 (rejet); D 2003. IR 1340, JCP 2004 II 10049 note E Gavin-Millan-Oosterlynck. A claim for negligence under Article 1382 was dismissed.

49 P Rémy-Corlay, ‘Damage, loss and the quantification of damages’ (forthcoming).

50 [2002] 1 AC 215.

51 See Bazley v Curry [1999] 2 SCR 534 and Jacobi v Griffiths [1999] 2 SCR 570 (SCC), albeit with a greater focus on enterprise risk and deterrence.

52 See New South Wales v Lepore (2003) 212 CLR 511 (HCA).

53 Note also the extension of fault liability in the new Article 1353 to organizational or operational fault, which additionally imposes liability on businesses for the acts of their employees.

54 Other persons supervising another by way of profession may be answerable for that person's torts unless they can show that they did not commit any fault: new Article 1358. For criticism, see Ph Le Tourneau, ‘Les responsabilités du fait d'autrui dans l'avant-projet de réforme’ [2007] Revue des contrats 109.

55 New Article 1359.

56 New Article 1355. See l'arrêt Fullenwarth: Ass plén 9 May 1984 D 1984.525 concl J Cabannes, note F Chabas, JCP 1984 II 20255, Cass civ (2) 10 May 2001 Bull civ 2001 II No 96, Cass civ (2) 3 July 2003 Bull civ 2003 II No 230.

57 ‘Apart from cases involving a relationship of employment, a person is liable for harm caused by another person whose professional or business activity he regulates or organises and from which he derives an economic advantage where this occurs in the course of this activity … Similarly, a person who controls the economic or financial activity of a business or professional person who is factually dependent on that person even though acting on his own account, is liable for harm caused by this dependent where the victim shows that the harmful action relates to the first person's exercise of control.’

58 Avant-projet (n 1) 167.

59 For example, Fagès emphasizes the particular difficulty of defining ‘control’ in a commercial context: B Fagès, ‘Réforme de la responsabilité du fait d'autrui et sort réservé aux sociétés mères’ [2007] Revue des contrats 115.

60 See Art 6:102 (Liability for auxiliaries).

61 See Art 3:201 (Accountability for damage caused by employees and representatives).

62 See the reaction of the Chambre de commerce et d'industrie de Paris at 33, which expresses concern as to the impact such liability will have on insurance premiums for defendants: Pour une réforme du droit des contrats et de la prescription conforme aux besoins de la view des affaires—Réactions de la CCIP à l'Avant-projet «Catala» et propositions d'amendements (CCIP, October 2006).

63 See Conseil National des Barreaux report at 43; Report of Cour de cassation (see above) paras 78 and 79.

64 See J-P Besset, Le Monde (25 September 2001): ‘Toulouse s'interroge sur les causes et les responsabilités de la catastrophe’. In addition, more than 2,400 were injured, 8,000 suffered minor injuries, and 40,000 people were made homeless for several days.

65 § 519(1) (General principle).

66 § 519(2). Note also European Principles of Tort Law, Article 5:101 (Abnormally dangerous activities): ‘(1) A person who carries on an abnormally dangerous activity is strictly liable for damage characteristic to the risk presented by the activity and resulting from it’ (emphasis added).

67 Note the similar provisions in European Principles of Tort Law, Article 5:101: ‘(2) An activity is abnormally dangerous if (a) it creates a foreseeable and highly significant risk of damage even when all due care is exercised in its management and (b) it is not a matter of common usage. (3) A risk of damage may be significant having regard to the seriousness or the likelihood of the damage.’

68 (1865) 3 H & C 774 (Court of Exchequer); (1866) 1 LR 1 Ex 265 (Court of Exchequer Chamber); (1868) LR 3 HL 330 (House of Lords). The case was finally resolved at House of Lords level, but the classic statement of principle was given by Blackburn J. in the Court of Exchequer Chamber: (1866) LR 1 Ex 265, 279–80; affirmed in (1886) LR 3 HL 330, HL.

69 Read v J Lyons & Co Ltd [1947] AC 156.

70 ibid (inspector of munitions injured by an explosion of a shell whilst inspecting the defendants' munitions factory).

71 Cambridge Water Co v Eastern Counties Leather plc [1994] 2 AC 264.

72 [2004] 2 AC 1. See also Cambridge Water Co v Eastern Counties Leather plc [1994] 2 AC 264.

73 Transco plc v Stockport MBC [2004] 2 AC 1.

74 See Lord Hoffmann, ibid para 39.

75 Lord Hoffmann, ibid para 45. See also Lord Goff in Cambridge Water Co v Eastern Counties Leather plc [1994] 2 AC 264, 305: ‘I incline to the opinion that, as a general rule, it is more appropriate for strict liability in respect of operations of high risk to be imposed by Parliament, than by the courts. If such liability is imposed by statute, the relevant activities can be identified, and those concerned can know where they stand. Furthermore, statute can where appropriate lay down precise criteria establishing the incidence and scope of such liability.’ See also Report of the Law Commission on Civil Liability for Dangerous Things and Activities (1970) (Law Com No 32) paras 14–16.

76 Contrast, for example, the very specific provision of the SGECC, Article 3:206 (Accountability for damage caused by dangerous substances or emissions): ‘(1) A keeper of a substance or an operator of an installation is accountable for the causation by that substance or by emissions from that installation of personal injury and consequential loss; loss within Article 2:202; loss resulting from property damage, and burdens within Article 2:209, if (a) having regard to their quantity and attributes, at the time of the emission, or, failing an emission, at the time of contact with the substance it is very likely that the substance or emission will cause such damage unless adequately controlled, and (b) the damage results from the realisation of that danger.’

77 D Nolan, ‘The Distinctiveness of Rylands v Fletcher’ (2005) 121 LQR 421, 448.

78 See GR Schwarz, ‘Rylands v Fletcher, Negligence and Strict liability’ in P Cane and J Stapleton (eds), The Law of Obligations (Clarendon Press, Oxford, 1998) 238. Stanton comments that the scope of its operation is in reality far more limited that that found under Article 1384, C civ: KM Stanton, ‘The legacy of Rylands v Fletcher’ in NJ Mullany and AM Linden (eds), Torts Tomorrow: A Tribute to John Fleming (LBC Information Services, Sydney, 1998) 88, fn 22.

79 Professor Viney expressly dealt with this point in her Exposé de motifs (n 1) 168. However, her argument that Article 1362 would deal primarily with industrial disasters whilst Article 1354 ff would deal with harm taking place between individuals is not set out in the text, and fails to deal with the fundamental concern that a loosely drafted private law provision is not the best way to deal with industrial disasters.

80 Should it be justified, for example, as resulting from the profit-making activities of the defendant, thereby confining the principles to a certain category of claims, or due to the creation of non-reciprocal risks which could give rise to a huge extension of liability?

81 Gesetz zur Modernisierung des Schuldsrechts of 26 November 2001. The revised BGB was promulgated on 2 January 2002. See R Zimmermann, The New German Law of Obligations (OUP, Oxford, 2005) 1, who notes that the reform of the BGB was triggered by the need to implement the European Consumer Sales Directive (Directive 1999/44 EC), although its final form far exceeded this initial motivation.

82 In France, the Code de la Consommation has been used for this purpose.

83 The obligations provisions in the Dutch Code (the Nieuwe Burgerlijk Wetboek, Books 3 and 6), for example, which came out in 1992, sought to be more detailed than the French Code and less conceptual than the German BGB, covering civil, commercial and consumer law, special statutes and case law.

84 Loi n°85-677, 5 July 1985 (Loi tendant à l'amélioration de la situation des victimes d'accidents de la circulation et à l'accélération des procédures d'indemnisation) Journal Officiel of 6 July 1985; D 1985 Lég 371.

85 Council Directive 85/374/EEC of 25 July 1985 on the approximation of the laws, regulations and administrative provisions of the Member States concerning liability for defective products: [1985] OJ L 210, 29.

86 See M Poumarède, ‘Les régimes particuliers de la responsabilité civile, ces oubliés de l'avant-projet Catala’ D 2006.2420.

87 G Viney and P Jourdain, Les conditions de la responsabilité (3rd edn, LGDJ, Paris, 2006) No 961 ff.

88 See new Articles 1341, 1351, 1373, 1382-1.

89 See new Articles 1379–1379-8.

90 Avant-projet (n 1) 163. See also G Viney and P Jourdain, Les conditions de la responsabilité (3rd edn, LGDJ, Paris, 2006) No 445.

91 This is an ongoing point of contention—in the words of Huet, ‘la matière est une des plus controversées qui soient’: J Huet, ‘Observations sur la distinction entre les responsabilités contractuelle et délictuelle dans l'avant-projet de réforme du droit des obligations’ [2007] Revue des contrats 31, who questions whether the link is rather artificial in reality.

92 New Articles 1379–81, although perhaps surprised by the generous provision in new Article 1371 of punitive damages for deliberate fault and fault with a view to gain (faute délibérée ou lucrative).

93 See Bell, Boyron and Whittaker (n 9) 395–97.

94 See, in particular, the comments of the French Bar, business community, the Cour de cassation Working Group (mentioned above) and Volume 1 of the 2007 Revue des contrats.

95 The Government has recently announced that there will be reform of the law of prescription on the basis of the proposals put forward by a Sénat commission headed by Jean-Jacques Hyest, which took account of the proposals contained in the Avant-projet: <> (20 February 2008). The Senate dossier d'information does state, however, that ‘la modernisation du droit de la prescription civile permet de jeter la première pierre du vaste chantier à venir de la réforme du droit des obligations’: <>.

96 See B Oppetit, ‘De la codification’ D 1996 chron 33, who notes the different forms, motivations for, and methods of codification available.

97 This is in contrast to the contract provisions, whose drafting committee included members of the legal profession.

98 See references in earlier footnotes. See also MEDEF (Mouvement des Entreprises de France), ‘Observations sur l'avant-projet de réforme du droit des obligations et du droit de la prescription’ (14 June 2006): <>. The July 2007 MEDEF, Bulletin Droit de la consommation at p6 is critical of the reforms, inter alia, due to the lack of consideration of the costs and inconvenience which would result from the proposed changes.

99 See The Law Commission and Government: Working together to deliver the benefits of clear, simple, modern law June 2004 (updated August 2006) para 1.8, <>.

100 H Beale, ‘Perspective de la Law Commission anglaise’ [2006] Revue des contrats 135, 142–43.

101 See E Hondius, JMJ Chorus, RHM, Gerver (eds), Introduction To Dutch Law (4th edn, Kluwer Law International, The Hague, 2007).

102 A code, it has been suggested, should ideally be coherent, logical in structure, non-contradictory, complete, clear and easy to use: see J Vanderlinden, Le Concept de Code en Europe Occidentale du XIIIe au XIXe siècle. Essai de Définition (Institute of Sociology, Brussels, 1967) 163 ff.

103 Report of the Cour de cassation, para 100: ‘la défense en Europe du meilleur du droit français.’