EU legislation on liability for defective products
If a defective product causes any physical damage to consumers or their property, the producer has to provide compensation irrespectively of whether there is negligence or fault on their part.
- Directive 85/374/EEC on liability for defective products was adopted in 1985
- Directive 1999/34/EC extended the scope of liability to agricultural and fishery products
Which products fall under the legislation?
This legislation applies to any product marketed in the European Economic Area (EEA). Compensation for material damage is limited to goods for private use or consumption with a lower threshold of €500. It sets out a time limit of 3 years for the recovery of damages and forbids clauses limiting or excluding the liability of the producer. It is the injured party's responsibility to prove the damage, the defect and the causal relationship between defect and damage for the purpose of compensation.
Rights of producers
Producers can be cleared of liability under certain conditions, notably, if they prove that
- they did not put the product into circulation
- the defect was due to the compliance of the product with mandatory regulations issued by public authorities
- the state of scientific or technical knowledge at the time the product was put into circulation could not detect the defect
The European Commission follows developments in case-law by the EU Court of Justice, analyses the information and complaints received, and reports on the application of the directive to the Council of the European Union and the European Parliament every five years. Five application reports have already been submitted. The fifth report, covering the period 2011-2015, was submitted in 2018.
In this context, the Commission carried out a formal evaluation of Directive 85/374/EEC supported by an external study. This evaluation is an evidence-based assessment of whether the directive continues to be an adequate tool and continues to meet its objectives today - also in the light of new technological developments.
As part of the evaluation, the Commission launched a public consultation on the evaluation of Directive 85/374/EEC. The aim of this consultation was to collect stakeholders' feedback on the application and performance of the directive, including how this relates to challenges raised by new technological developments.
The Commission has set up an expert group on liability and new technologies. The group has two formations. The 'product liability formation' will assist the Commission in drawing up guidance on the directive. The 'new technologies formation' will assess the implications of emerging digital technologies for the wider liability frameworks at EU and national level.
In 2020, the Commission published a report on the broader implications for, potential gaps in and orientations for, the liability and safety frameworks for artificial intelligence, the Internet of Things and robotics.
- First report on the application of Directive 85/374/EEC concerning liability for defective products (1995)
- Second report on the application of the Directive 85/374/EEC concerning liability for defective products (2000)
- Third report on the application of the Directive 85/374/EEC concerning liability for defective products (2006)
- Fourth report on the application of the Directive 85/374/EEC concerning liability for defective products (2011)
- Fifth report on the application of the Directive 85/374/EEC concerning liability for defective products (2018)
- Staff Working Document: Liability for emerging digital technologies
- Communication, 'Artificial Intelligence for Europe'