Risks and Uncertainties of Scientific Innovations in French Liability Law: Between Radical Departure and Continuity

By Verges, Etienne | McGill Law Journal, June 2014 | Go to article overview

Risks and Uncertainties of Scientific Innovations in French Liability Law: Between Radical Departure and Continuity


Verges, Etienne, McGill Law Journal


The author investigates changes in French liability law that have occurred since the end of the nineteenth century as a result of innovation in science and technology and, in particular, of the risks and uncertainties attached to this phenomenon. This text explores the extent to which scientific and technological innovation has influenced legal innovation in the field of civil liability. The author seeks to address whether science- and technology-based legal developments resulted in radical departures from the general principles of civil liability, or rather take place within a continued evolution of the law. This study demonstrates that the impact of scientific and technological innovation on liability is ambivalent; changes in the French law of civil liability have constituted both a radical departure and a continuity of orthodox practice.

L'objectif de cette etude est de mesurer l'influence des sciences et technologies sur les evolutions du droit de la responsabilite en France depuis la premiere revolution industrielle jusqu'a nos jours. Cet article etudie comment le droit de la responsabilite a reagi face aux nouveaux problemes poses par les sciences et les technologies. Plus precisement, il s'interroge sur le fait de savoir si les innovations scientifiques ont provoque des ruptures radicales dans le droit de la responsabilite ou si celui-ci a pu s'adapter en appliquant ses principes generaux a des problemes nouveaux. L'etude montre que les deux phenomenes peuvent etre observes (rupture et continuite).

Introduction
I.   The Factual Bases of Liability (faits generateurs)
     A. Continuity and Radical Departure in die Application
        of the General Principles of Civil Liability
        1. Changes to the General Principles of Civil Liability
           in Response to Innovation
           a. Fault-based Liability
           b. Liability for Damage Caused by Things in One's
              Charge
        2. Adjustment of the General Principles of Civil Liability
           to the Specific Features of Scientific and Technological
           Innnovation
           a. Changes to Gross Negligence
           b. Separation of Custody of the Dung
     B. Departure in the Development of Special Liability Systems
        1. Nuclear Energy
        2. Space Activities
        3. Medical Activities
        4. Environmental Damage
II.  Injury for which Compensation Can Be Claimed
     A. New Types of Injury 904
     B. Injury Forming an Exception to the General Principles of
        Civil Liability
III. Causal Link 909
Conclusion

Introduction

A fundamental feature of the fields of science and technology is innovation. (1) Innovation generates the unknown, and creates risky situations and uncertainty. These risks and uncertainties have caused some of the most significant changes in French civil liability law since the end of the nineteenth century. (2) The central question consequently becomes, to what extent does this innovation in science and technology create new developments in French liability law? More precisely, the purpose of this paper is to determine whether changes in the law of civil liability influenced by scientific innovations have translated into radical departures from general principles of civil liability (3) or, rather, have formed part of a continued evolution of these general principles. (4)

To answer this question, this article will analyze French liability law from a historical perspective, presenting an overview of this area of law. It will begin from the first pre-eminent case resulting from a technological accident (the Teffaine ruling of 1896) and will finish with the most recent rulings handed down in the areas of medical and environmental disputes. From a methodological perspective, this article will not scrutinize each legal mechanism in great detail. Rather, it will review a select group of momentous laws and precedents chosen for their significance and importance. …

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