On 21 May 2014, the French Supreme Court (Cour de Cassation) rendered a new decision against an asbestos surveying firm, holding that the latter plays a role in ensuring the safety of the French population.
The Court ruled that when an operator is entrusted with the mission to identify the presence of asbestos on a site or in a building, a simple visual inspection is not sufficient. Indeed, the Court expects firms contracted to identify the presence of asbestos to carry out in-depth analyses without destroying parts of the building or site.
This is not the first time that the French Supreme Court has ruled that these firms should not carry out a simple visual inspection. For instance, in July 2003, the Court ruled that these firms should themselves determine which parts of a building need to be inspected and not simply follow the recommendations of the building or site's owner. The French Supreme Court more recently ruled that asbestos surveying firms should carry out obvious tests, such as sound testing of walls or checking under wooden floors or false ceilings.
This new judgment dated 21 May 2014, however, goes even further. Indeed, in this case, the defendant argued that it had not tested the resistance of the asbestos-containing walls because this would have damaged the walls in question which it was not allowed to do. The Court replied that this was not a relevant argument and that asbestos surveying firms cannot use aesthetic arguments to avoid fully analysing a building. This is in line with a decision dated 15 December 2009 in which the Court had stated that only insurmountable physical obstacles could justify asbestos identification firms not examining a whole building or site.
In the case that led to the 21 May 2014 judgment, the French Supreme Court therefore upheld the ruling of the Poitiers Court of Appeal which had ordered the asbestos identification firm to pay 45,600 Euros as damages to the buyer of the building.