Asbestos: The French State Council ('Conseil d'Etat') Holds The State Liable When An Employer Is Deemed Responsible For Asbestos-Related Occupational Diseases And Inexcusable Faults


On the 9th of November 2015, the French State Council ("Conseil d'Etat") admitted for the first time the possibility for an employer held liable on the grounds of inexcusable fault to take action against the State so as to be guaranteed in whole or in part of any damages it would have been ordered to pay by Social Security Courts.

In the present case, a shipbuilding company, held liable several times on the ground of inexcusable fault due to the exposure to asbestos of some of its employees, initiated proceedings against the State, arguing that public authorities had failed to comply with their duty to prevent occupational risks until 1996, when asbestos was prohibited.

The French State Council invalidated the Nantes Administrative Court of Appeal's decision, on the grounds that it had failed to clarify whether the company's fault "precluded the recognition of a direct causal link between the administration's alleged fault and the alleged damage or whether it had been deliberately committed and was of such gravity that the company could not invoke the administration's failure to take appropriate measure to prevent [the company] from committing [such fault]."

Indeed, even though the employer is subject to a general safety obligation pursuant to Article L. 4121-1 of the French Labour Code, public authorities which are in charge of occupational risks are also bound to stay informed of dangers to which employees may be exposed and to take, according to current scientific knowledge and available information, the most appropriate measures in order to limit or eliminate these dangers, when possible.

The French State Council thus considered that the employer's inexcusable...

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