Many will be aware of the Gilets Jaunes (Yellow Vests) demonstrations which have occurred in France, particularly in Paris, over recent weeks. These began as protests against the state about a proposed increase in fuel tax, but have since spread across France and often resulted in rioting, property damage and violent clashes with police.
A specific State liability regime in France applies in the event of damage and loss arising as a result of violent protests. Article L.211-10 of the Internal Security Code provides that “The State bears civil liability for the damage resulting from the crimes and offenses committed, by open force or by violence, by rallies or gatherings, armed or unarmed, either against the persons, or against property”. This provision is based on a system of strict liability (ie liability without fault).
The State can be held liable for damage and loss arising as a result of offences committed by armed or unarmed rallies or gatherings, where the protest was spontaneous (ie not organised, or structured). The Gilets Jaunes protests have taken place every Saturday for the last few weeks, and generally started at the same location, which tends to give these demonstrations a premeditated character. This would usually take them outside the scope of the strict liability regime. However, these protests were, until recently, not pre-notified and their progress was unknown to local residents or business owners (including town centre shopkeepers /retailers who are those most likely to be affected). This was particularly true in Paris where small groups managed to break through police cordons and spread throughout Paris. This aspect may be enough to trigger a successful claim under this specific liability regime, and some retailers who have suffered loss or damage are looking closely at this option at the moment.
Those insuring entities with businesses or property in French cities will doubtless be extremely interested in this analysis.
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