A new era for product liability? The European Parliament to hold a committee to discuss

The European Parliament is hosting a committee hearing on 22 January 2020 to discuss the review of the Product Liability Directive in the new digital age. The hearing is open to the public and will also be web streamed.

We are closely monitoring developments and a quick overview of current issues is provided below.

What is the Product Liability Directive?

The Product Liability Directive sets out the EU-wide no fault liability regime for defective products.

The Product Liability Directive came into force in 1985, and so was drafted for the product liability landscape of 35 years ago. Since 2017, public consultations have been conducted at European level to consider whether the existing framework is still fit for purpose in the new digital age.

What is the aim of the hearing?

The aim of the hearing on 22 January 2020 is to further discuss the current product liability regime and the potential need for an update. A variety of participants have been invited (including businesses and consumers associations) to ensure that the matter is addressed from different perspectives. Participants will be encouraged to present their views on whether the current regime remains adequate in addressing potential hazards arising in particular from the increased presence of new technologies in our everyday lives.

The hearing will be an opportunity to hear more in relation to the work of the Expert Group on Liability and New Technologies (the "Expert Group").

The Expert Group was set up in 2017 to provide the European Commission with expertise on the applicability of the Product Liability Directive and to assist in developing guiding principles for possible adaptations of applicable laws related to new technologies. It consists of the Product Liability Directive Formation and the New Technologies Formation.

What is the status of the revision work so far?

In November 2019, the New Technologies Formation published its report on the “Liability for AI and other emerging digital technologies”. Although the report concludes that the existing product liability regime does provide basic protection for damage caused by emerging digital technologies, certain characteristics specific to emerging technologies are noted as potentially making it more difficult for compensation to be achieved.

The final report from the Product Liability Directive Formation has not yet been published. It aims to assist the Commission in drawing up guidance on the Product Liability Directive, and is expected to be published later this year.

Consumer protection in the digital sphere

Two new directives have already been introduced with the aim of enhancing consumer rights over products with a digital element:

  1. Directive (EU) 2019/770 on certain aspects concerning contracts for the supply of digital content and digital services (the Digital Content and Digital Services Directive); and
  2. Directive (EU) 2019/771 on certain aspects concerning contracts for the sale of goods, amending Regulation (EU) 2017/2394 and Directive 2009/22/EC, and repealing Directive 1999/44/EC (the Sale of Goods Directive).

These are to be implemented by 2021 and override current legislation on consumer rights within the EU.

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