European Commission announces evaluation of Product Liability Directive

On 12 September 2016, the European Commission published a consultation on its Product Liability Directive (Directive 85/374, as modified by Directive 1999/34).

The Product Liability Directive is the key piece of legislation in the European Union's product liability regime and aims to harmonise the law of member states concerning the liability of producers caused by defective products. The significance of the Product Liability Directive is difficult to overstate, having introduced a principle of strict liability for the producers defective products into UK law.

The consultation

The purpose of the evaluation is to assess the functioning and performance of this principle amongst member states, seeking to identify gaps or overlaps in its scope and possible shortcomings in its application. It will also look into how member states are applying the Product Liability Directive in cases of damage caused by new technologies, such as robots, automated systems, complex "Internet of Things" products, malfunctioning apps and other non-embedded software, and whether the provisions of the act are still fit for purpose in this context.

As part of the evaluation, the Commission will carry out:

  • An online, 12-week public consultation which will be published on the Commission's 'Your Voice in Europe' website - click here.
  • An online targeted survey addressed to public authorities, industry and consumer associations, academia, law firms, insurers and federations of insurers.
  • Face-to-face interviews with key stakeholders, including businesses and industrial and consumer associations.
  • An external study.

The evaluation will cover the whole period 2000-15 and the 28 member states, and will provide input for the Commission's Fifth Report on the Product Liability Directive, which will identify possible issues in the application of the Directive and suggest possible improvements.

Brexit: Does it matter?

With the prospect of a Brexit on the horizon, a consultation on the future of the EU's product liability regime might be thought to be of little relevance to stakeholders in the UK. However, with significant questions around the process and timing of a Brexit still largely unanswered and the reality that many EU provisions could well be transposed into UK law post-withdrawal, the evaluation may provide a valuable opportunity for stakeholders to play a role in the development of the future of UK law on product liability. This is not to mention the relevance for those organisations who produce, market and distribute products within the rest of the European Union, including those based in Britain for whom the EU is a marketplace.

A copy of the Roadmap is available to view here.

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