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In civil law, producers are liable for damage caused by defective products. If the producer cannot be identified, the supplier of the product is treated as its producer unless the supplier informs the injured person (within three months of being asked) of the identity of the producer.

A product is defective when, taking all circumstances into account, it does not provide the safety reasonably expected and which would normally be offered by other examples of the same kind of product. A product cannot be considered defective only because a better product is later put into circulation.

A producer can exclude liability if:

  • The producer did not put the product into circulation;
  • The defect which caused the damage did not exist at the time when the product was put into circulation;
  • The product was neither manufactured by the producer for sale nor manufactured or distributed by the producer in the course of business;
  • The defect is a consequence of making the product compliant with mandatory regulations issued by public authorities, or the state of scientific and technical knowledge at the time the product was put into circulation did not permit the defect to be discovered.

A manufacturer or supplier of a component can exclude liability if the defect is attributable to the design of the product in which the component has been fitted or to the instructions given by the manufacturer of the product. Liability is strict. The injured person needs only prove the damage and the defect and the causal relationship between the two.

Damages can be recovered for death or personal injury and damage to property, provided that it is property ordinarily intended for private use and was used by the injured person mainly for his or her own private use.

Any agreement which a priori excludes or exempts any injured party from liability is null and void.

The right to compensation expires three years from the day on which the injured person was or should have been aware of the damage, the defect and the name of the person liable. The right to compensation also expires ten years after the day on which the producer or importer introduced the product that caused the damage into the European Union. 


Companies may be criminally liable if they adulterate or counterfeit products for trade in a way that could be dangerous to public health, or if they sell products dangerous to public health.

Prosecutors can act on information from private individuals, the police or public authorities.

The sanctions that will be imposed depend on the seriousness of the consequences of the crime and on the kind of products that have been adulterated. For example, if the adulterated products are pharmaceuticals, the sanctions are more serious. Sanctions include fines and imprisonment (even life imprisonment, if the crime causes death). In some cases, additional sanctions can be ordered, such as publication of a judgment in the media or being banned from carrying out business activities or holding managerial positions within a company for a period of five to ten years. 

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Note past results are not guarantees of future results. Each matter is individual and will be decided on its own facts.