Thursday, 27 November 2014

Ex Officio Examination of the Status of the Buyer and Burden of Proof in Consumer Sales - Opinion AG Sharpston in case Froukje Faber (C-497/13)

27 October 2014: Opinion AG Sharpston in case Froukje Faber (C-497/13)

Today AG Sharpston handed down her opinion in a case where the consumer Froukje Faber bought a used car from Autobedrijf Hazet. The Dutch court of second instance dealing with the case asked for an interpretation of the  consumer sales directive

The car caught fire four months after having been handed over to Ms Faber. Neither in the proceeding in the first nor in the second instance Ms Faber claimed that she had bought the car for private purposes. The court asked if it had to examine out of his own motion - in violation of national rules and as a duty arising from the directive - whether the purchaser is a consumer. Unsurprisingly, GA Sharpston argued that national courts have this duty (due to the principle of effectiveness).

The wreck had been dismantled before the cause of the fire was found out. The Dutch court asked if it had to apply Art 5 (3) which partially reverses the burden of proof for the benefit of consumers ex officio, a question the GA answered in the affirmative. According to GA Sharpston, the consumer has to proof the lack of conformity if the latter becomes apparent within six months of delivery. He or she, however, does not have to show the cause for the lack of correspondence. For the present case this means that Ms Faber has to show that the fire occurred and '...why, as a result of the fire, she considers that the car which was delivered to her did not correspond with the car which, based on the contract and other relevant information, she had expected to receive. ... in the present case, it may be sufficient for Ms Faber to show that the product can no longer (properly) perform the function for which it was purchased...'. It is then up to the seller to proof that the car was in conformity with the contract at the moment of delivery. 

The Netherlands made use of the possibility to introduce a rule under which the buyer has to notify the seller about the presumed lack of conformity of the good in due time (Art 5 [2] consumer sales directive). The Dutch court asked how far this duty to notify goes. AG Sharpston highlighted that the buyer, when notifying the seller, does not yet have to proof the lack of conformity.

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