The Economist is reporting that the French president Francois Hollande’s government just presented a class action bill to the Council of Ministers on May 2. While the bill still must be debated and passed, it has already generated a fair amount of buzz in Europe about whether this means that the French Socialist government will be importing American-style class actions.
European businesses need not worry that much. The bill really is far more similar to England’s "group action" law (although it appears to operate on an opt-out principle rather than an opt-in one). As Commercial Risk Europe reports, the bill only allows registered consumer associations to bring the group action, and only for "material losses." It’s aimed primarily at consumers, and is likely to cover primarily products liability and competition cases. (It was apparently driven by several issues with medical products in the last few years.)
As a result, it’s unlikely to result in the flood of litigation that companies face in America. Consumer associations tend to be non-profit, which means they will likely focus more on cases where real harm was done than on cases that can leverage the largest settlements (and therefore fees for their lawyers).
That said, it will be interesting to see how American plaintiffs’ firms react. Firms like Hausfeld LLP have been trying to build a global presence for some time. If they wind up taking "advisory" roles on French group action cases, that may signal they sense the potential for profit. Someone might want to start monitoring the comings and goings in the 8th arrondissement.
(Thanks to Betting the Company co-author Andrew DeGuire for the tip about the article.)