NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

VIVA LA FRENCH LEGAL SYSTEM!

February 17, 2005

While the U.S. Congress tries to control abusive class-action lawsuits that many argue have spiraled out of control, French President Jacques Chirac is proposing measures that would allow consumer groups to sue on behalf of consumers in France.

Chirac has promised that class action lawsuits will not become excessive, and indeed, France's legal system may ensure that they don't, say observers. For example:

  • France's legal code does not provide for strict product-liability rules; that is, French defendants can be found not liable by showing evidence of negligence by the plaintiff resulting in injury.
  • France prohibits contingency fees, thereby discouraging lawyers who sue just to "clean up," although the French legal system does allow limited "success fees."
  • French judges are permitted to order the losing side of a lawsuit to pay some or all of the winner's legal costs, which also dampens lawyers' incentives for frivolous suits.

Unlike France, lawyers in the United States have little restraint when it comes to milking large settlements from class action suits. In a recent lawsuit involving Citibank, lawyers received $9 million while consumers who were supposedly treated unfairly by Citibank received mere pennies.

Observers note that while France is adopting American-style tort practices, perhaps the United States could learn something from France as well, by adopting some of their legal restraints that would end the redistribution of millions of dollars of wealth from businesses and consumers to lawyers.

Source: Brian M. Carney, "Class Action'a la Fran'aise," Opinion Journal, February 14, 2005.

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