21 October 2014: Opinion AG Bot in case Boston Scientific Medizintechnik GmbH (C-503/13 & C-504/13)
Imagine you had a pacemaker installed. It's already quite a stressful and invasive procedure, but then you find out from your doctor that the type of pacemaker that was used in your surgery has been found out to fail "from time to time". Since the producer of the pacemaker advises your doctor to think about exchanging your pacemaker due to a defect in their design for another one, with less chances of a failure, you agree to a new surgery. Who's going to pay for it though? The German courts were pretty certain that it should be the producer of the faulty product (a faulty pacemaker in case C-503/13 and a faulty defibrillator in case C-504/13) but some questions have been asked to the CJEU to ascertain the rules of the Product Liability Directive in such cases.
First, to claim damages under the Product Liability Directive the consumer needs to prove that the product he acquired was faulty. In the given case, there was a presumption that the medical products could fail working at one point (based on the extensive testing of copies of this product) and due to the increased risk of such a failure these products were deactivated. This means, however, that in these specific cases the defect did not manifest itself, since the removal of the medicinal products prevented this occurrence. The AG Bot nonetheless considers such medicinal product to fulfill the requirements posed in the Product Liability Directive to a faulty product. (Par. 26) Art. 6 of this Directive states that when the product does not offer consumers expected by them safety standards, it should be perceived as faulty. Recital 6 determines that "to protect the physical well-being and property of the consumer, the defectiveness of the product should be determined by reference not to its fitness for use but to the lack of the safety which the public at large is entitled to expect". The AG Both is, therefore, convinced that the test is an abstract one, not necessarily relying on the specific consumer's case, but rather during which it is justified to assume that if a consumer has a product identical to the one that already showed serious defects, he may reasonably question the safety of his product as well. (Par. 29, 33) Additionally, AG Bot claims that effective consumer protection requires that consumers could claim liability for defective products also prior to these products causing any damage. (Par. 38) While this statement is true, it needs to be said that this effective protection could be granted to consumers through measures other than Product Liability Directive, which is very much focused on compensating consumers for specific damage that was caused by a defective product. This opinion seems to be broadening the scope of application of the Directive, which until now was very narrowly interpreted.
Second, as mentioned above, the Product Liability Directive is meant to facilitate easy compensation of consumer's damage resulting from the defective product. The question was whether the costs of a surgery to remove a defective product (removal of a pacemaker or a defibrillator) could be seen as damage caused by personal injury. (Par. 56) While not all language versions of the Directive used a term with the same meaning of a 'personal injury', the theological interpretation points out that the Directive aims at protecting, in general, the 'health' of the consumer as well as his 'physical integrity'. (Par. 61) Therefore, excluding from the scope of the notion of 'damage' such damage that is caused due to a surgical intervention to remove a defective medical product would undermine this legislative purpose. (Par. 63) The causal link between the damage and the defect would then be for the national courts to prove (Par. 70) but the fact that the producer of the defective products recommended their removal to the doctors could be perceived as such evidence. (Par. 71)
It's a very interesting case that may influence the scope of application of the Product Liability Directive. Considering its limited application in practice and the fact that in such important cases as product recall due to increased risk to consumer health the compensation rules in the EU should be harmonized, it is clear why the AG Bot took the stand he did. It remains to be seen whether the CJEU shares this point of view.