European Commission Launches Consultation to Evaluate the Product Liability Directive

Producers are among those invited to provide input for an evaluation of the European law on consumer claims for defective products. Interested parties will want to keep up to date with developments because changes to the law may be proposed, depending on the outcome of the exercise.

On 10 January 2017, the European Commission launched a public consultation on the evaluation of the Product Liability Directive (85/374/EEC). This 1985 measure invokes a strict liability regime for damage caused by products that do not provide the safety a person is entitled to expect.

Since 1995, the EC has produced four reports on the application of the Directive, but until this initiative there had been no formal evaluation to assess its functioning and performance.

The EC describes the aim of the new public consultation as being to collect stakeholders' feedback on the application and performance of the Directive, and in particular:

  • whether and to what extent the Directive meets its objectives of guaranteeing at EU level the liability without fault for damage caused by a defective product;
  • whether it still corresponds to stakeholders’ needs; and
  • if the Directive is fit-for-purpose vis-à-vis new technological developments such as the ‘Internet of Things’ and autonomous systems.

In its earlier Consultation Strategy published in September 2016, the EC specified that it wished to examine whether the Directive remains coherent with other EU actions (such as initiatives in the area of the Digital Single Market) and has ‘added value for EU stakeholders’. The EC explained that the evaluation will assess how Member States interpret the provisions of the Directive on aspects including new technological developments, ‘e.g. applications and non-embedded software, Internet of Things network, advanced robots or autonomous systems’, and whether it is fit for purpose in this context. Additional details on the evaluation appear in the October 2016 issue of the Product Liability Bulletin.

Responses to the consultation are accepted online, with separate questionnaires for (i) producers; (ii) public authorities, researchers and law firms; and (iii) citizens or other stakeholders. The forms are slightly different in terms of the details sought about the respondent and in the nature of the substantive questions. Several of the questions cover points relating to innovation, data, interconnectivity, smart devices, robots, etc., which is consistent with the aim of evaluating liability issues presented by new technologies.

Simultaneously, the EC is consulting on ‘Building a European Data Economy’ as part of its Digital Single Market Strategy and examining emerging issues concerning data and ‘ownership, access, reuse, portability and liability.’

The consultation will run until 26 April 2017 and can be accessed here. Earlier EC notification specified a completion date for the evaluation of July 2017.