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French ministers rubber stamp class-action bill


PARIS—The French government Wednesday approved a consumer-protection Bill that, among other things, would introduce a version of class actions in France.

The Council of Ministers Wednesday approved the bill which, in addition to introducing class actions, would require telecommunication companies and Internet service providers to stop charging consumers for time spent waiting on customer-service hotlines.

It also beefs up the government's consumer protection watchdog, while allowing for tax-deductible contributions to consumer defense associations.

"This [law] is a question of justice and it's important for consumer confidence, and thus for economic growth," said French President Jacques Chirac.

The Bill creates a two-phase process in which judges could hear class-action complaints, but only those covering consumer goods linked to a contract, and only those filed by government-approved consumer organizations. Damages are capped at €2,000.

If a judge determines "professional fault," individual plaintiffs would have to individually negotiate with the company for compensation, then personally appear before the judge if the company refuses to settle.

The law would not introduce lawyer contingency fees, punitive damages or civil trials with juries into France. Class actions would not be allowed for medical complaints, transportation accidents, or other non-commercial disputes.