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Civil liability

3General principles3

Civil liability is incurred when damage is caused by a private individual.

The victim or environmental protection associations can bring action before a civil judge. Civil liability does not rule out criminal sanctions.

To incur civil liability, the causal link between the event which caused the damage and the loss incurred by the victim must be proved.

Civil liability can be incurred on several grounds :

  • a person can be liable due to the fault they have committed (article 1382 of the Civil Code) ;
  • without being at fault themselves, they can be liable in their capacity as keeper of a property (classified installation, waste etc.) involved in the damage (article 1384 of the Civil Code).

3Case of classified installations3

Even in the absence of any fault, the damage caused by an installation to local residents can be considered abnormal. Those adversely affected by the running of this installation can bring on action before the civil judge, even if the operator is in compliance with his permit order. Article L. 514-19 of the Environmental code stipulates that operating permits are issued without prejudice to any third-party rights.

Nevertheless, the law provides for a right of precedence in civil cases to the benefit of the industrial operator. Article L. 112-16 of the Building and housing Code stipulates that third parties who have moved into the vicinity of a noxious activity cannot be compensated for their loss if this activity is in compliance with the applicable legislation and standards and if it has not been modified since the arrival of the resident.

The civil judge can award damages to the complainant or take measures to put an end to the nuisances. However, the civil judge cannot order closure of an installation to put an end to the damage.

3Civil liability and insurance3

An operator can take out insurance against the damage that his installation may cause, but only if this damage is sudden and unforeseen.

In case of conflict between the operator and the insurance company, if the judge finds that the insured has committed an intentional fault, the insurer is not liable to indemnify.

Certain insurance companies offer contracts to operators covering the consequences of unforeseen but not necessarily accidental events.