In France, when a current or former employee develops an asbestos-related illness, he/she will receive an allowance from Social Security (as long as the illness is occupational) and he/she can file a gross negligence claim against his/her employer to obtain damages.

Since judgments of the French Supreme Court (Cour de Cassation) dated 28 February 2002, French courts have adopted a very pro-claimant approach, considering that a corporation should be liable if it is proven that it was aware, or should have been aware, of the dangers linked to asbestos (which is always assessed by courts based on public knowledge) and did not take appropriate protective measures.  Regarding the latter criterion, it is difficult for corporations to avoid liability even if they complied with the regulations applicable at the time.  They should, indeed, prove that the measures they implemented were effective.

Applying these criteria in this case, the Versailles Court of Appeal found that the corporation concerned, Latty International, was guilty of gross negligence and ordered it to pay damages to a former employee who had died from lung cancer.

Latty International then decided to file a claim against the French State before the Orleans Administrative Court on the ground that it had been found liable even though it had complied with French Law.  The Administrative Court agreed with Latty International, ruling that the State is also liable for not having enacted more stringent regulations. The Court, however, ruled that Latty International was unable to prove that it did everything in its power to protect its employees in light of its knowledge of the dangers linked to asbestos and therefore decided to order the French State to reimburse Latty International not of all the damages it had to pay the employee, but only half.

This is an interesting judgment and its appeal should be monitored to see whether French courts are really willing to open the door to shared liability between corporations and the French State.