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Manhattan Institute

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Green Paper and the Future of Product Liability Litigation in Europe

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Green Paper and the Future of Product Liability Litigation in Europe

September 1, 2001
Legal ReformOther

PART ONE: Product Liability in Europe and the Role of the European Commission

Mr. James Wootton: There’s a dramatic difference in cost between litigating in the United States and litigating in other countries. That cost is coming to the attention of policymakers and people who are responsible for litigation in major corporations.

An aggressive effort by U.S. trial attorneys to export our system, which is the costliest system in the world, is creating some anxiety in Europe and other areas of the world. The question is whether or not that anxiety is justified.

Ms. Leah Lorber: Before 1985 there was no strict liability for defective products in Europe. Each Member State had its own unique national system of law. These were primarily fault-based schemes of law, like negligence. Some of the Member States also had contractual liability for defective products, similar to warranty schemes. There were a few States that had specialized liability schemes for pharmaceuticals.

In 1985 the Council of the European Union adopted the first Directive on liability for defective products.[1]  The Directive imposed strict liability for the first time—and it applied throughout much of Europe. The Member States didn’t have to individually develop their laws of strict liability, as has happened in each of the United States over the past thirty years.

The point of the Directive was to bring the diverse laws of the Member States together to make them more uniform and to encourage the growth of the single Common Market in Europe. The Council wanted to make uniform certain consumer protections, remove barriers to the free movement of trade, and encourage predictability.

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