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Product liability: Brussels must make improvements

vzbv calls for fundamental reform of product liability law

  • vzbv advocates a consumer-friendly reversal of the burden of proof.
  • Consumers must be able to rely on effective protection through modern product liability law.
  • The proposal of the European Commission falls short of vzbv's expectations.
Eine Hand hält ein Handy, auf dem "Smart Home" steht. Dahinter sieht man eine Küche, in der verschiedene Smart-Home-Geräte markiert sind.

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In case of defective products, manufacturers must bear the burden of proof. In addition, operators of online marketplaces should be held more accountable. In a statement, the Federation of German Consumer Organisations (Verbraucherzentrale Bundesverband – vzbv) has criticised the European Commission's proposals as not far-reaching enough. At the end of September, the Commission has published a proposal for a directive in order to modernise the almost 40-year-old product liability law.

"With the proposal, the Commission has missed the opportunity to present a fundamental reform of product liability law,” says Ramona Pop, Executive Director of vzbv. However, this is needed in order to adapt the legislation to the digital age. "Crucial point is the burden of proof. Consumers have hardly any chance to prove that the product was defective and therefore caused damages. This is in particular true for connected devices, because they are a “black box” for many consumers. vzbv calls for a reversal of the burden of proof. It must be up to the economic operators (manufacturers, importers, retailers etc.) to prove that a product is not defective.

Abolishing the lower threshold

Modern product liability law must also reflect the risks of products in the digital age. Up to now, consumers have only been able to assert their claims for defective products above a threshold value of 500 euros. vzbv expressly welcomes the fact that this limit will no longer apply and that consumers will be able to claim damages from the first euro upwards.

Another positive element from the consumer's point of view is the clarification that software – whether stand-alone or integrated – is a product and therefore subject to product liability law.

Holding online marketplaces accountable

Online trading is becoming increasingly important. vzbv calls for a subsidiary liability of operators of online marketplaces if no other economic operator can be held accountable. They benefit from global trade and generate high revenues. Therefore, operators of online marketplaces must take responsibility for defective products. "Consumers must be able to rely on effective protection through modern product liability law,” says Pop.

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22-12-21 vzbv position paper PLD-P

Necessary system update: product liability

Position paper of the Federation of German Consumer Organisations (Verbraucherzentrale Bundesverband – vzbv) on the Proposal for a Directive on Liability for Defective Products (COM(2022) 495 (final)) | 8 December 2022

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