On 22 October 2015, the Paris Civil Court ("Tribunal de grande instance de Paris") handed down a judgment concerning environmental exposure to asbestos which could pave the way towards compensation of neighbours of industrial sites.
Originally, the dispute, which related to depollution issues, had arisen between the company S.A. Comptoir de Minéraux et Matières Premières (“CMMP”), a former operator of an asbestos and zircon grinding plant, and the purchasers of this industrial site located in Aulnay-sous-Bois.
Three associations (l’Association Départementale de Défense des Victimes de l’Amiante 93, Ban Asbestos France and l’Association Aulnay Environnement) intervened voluntarily in the proceedings, arguing that the operator had delayed the site’s depollution. Each requested damages amounting to €10,000 on the ground of non-pecuniary loss.
The Court recognised that the associations’ intervention was legitimate, on the grounds that they “were in charge of asbestos victims’ collective interest” and that they had “an interest in claiming damages for non-pecuniary loss potentially caused by breaches in the treatment of asbestos”, regardless of the fact that “the current litigation [was] related to contracts which they [were not] party to”.
The CMMP was alleging in response to the associations’ arguments that “the surrounding air [had not] been contaminated, and that the associations [had] burdened, and, as a result, slowed down depollution operations, that there [was] no causal link between the damages sought and the alleged misconduct”.
The Court rejected these arguments and judged, on the contrary, that the CMMP had violated its depollution obligations over at least 17 years, from the cessation of the CMMP’s activity to the site’s remediation, and that “this misconduct had caused a non-pecuniary loss to the associations that should be valued, for each, at €1”.
Although financial consequences resulting from the associations’ intervention in this dispute are almost non-existent, it must be concluded that the Court’s position is likely to open the way to compensation of neighbours of industrial sites in the event of an environmental exposure to asbestos triggered by a professional activity.
This ruling is undoubtedly objectionable on more than one ground. Indeed, as surrounding contamination had not been proven, there was, clearly in this case, neither any misconduct nor damage.
Client Alert 2016-038