The employer's inexcusable fault: the Court of Cassation focuses more on the damage than on the cause of the accident
Prevention is better than cure!
About the decision of the second civil chamber of the Court of Cassation of 19 June 2019
(Court of Cassation, 2nd Civil Division, 20 June 2019, No. 18-19.175)
Under the terms of Article L. 452-1 of the French Social Security Code, employers are bound by their employment contracts to their employees by an obligation to ensure the safety of their employees, particularly with regard to accidents at work. Failure to comply with this obligation constitutes a inexcusable fault where the employer was or should have been aware of the danger to which the employee was exposed and did not take the necessary measures to protect him.
Through the litigation of inexcusable fault, the Court of Cassation censures the employer's negligence in implementing measures intended to ensure the protection of the integrity of its employees.
In this case, Mr W., a lorry driver, was the victim of a traffic accident after he lost control of his vehicle and was ejected from the passenger compartment through the windscreen. This accident was covered by the occupational legislation of the Caisse primaire d'assurance maladie du Tarn, i.e. it was recognised as an accident at work.
Mr W. therefore brought an action before a court of social security an action for recognition of his employer's inexcusable fault.
In order to demonstrate that the vehicle was safe, the employer tried to defend itself by arguing that the technical inspection had not revealed any defects.
While the Court of Appeal upheld the employer's claims, the Court of Cassation held that the claimant had been ejected from the windscreen and that, consequently, the seatbelt had necessarily contributed to the damage.
In other words, the Court of Cassation recalls that inexcusable fault does not have to be the determining cause of the accident. It is sufficient that the employer's failure to act participated, in one way or another, in causing the damage.
It can be seen that the Judges were more concerned with the consequence of the accident than with the cause of the accident.
The very strict assessment of the employer's obligation of safety of result, which makes it possible to engage its liability even if its failure is not the determining cause of the accident, seems to be far removed from the shift created by the decision of 25 November 2015 (Cass. soc. 25 November 2015, "Air France", No. 14-24444) by which the Court had operated a mutation of the obligation of safety of result towards a reinforced obligation of means, thus attenuating the obligation of safety weighing on the employer.
Underlying this is the objective conception of employer liability arising from the Law of 9 April 1898 on liability for accidents to which workers are subjected in the course of their work, which enabled employees to claim compensation without having to prove their employer's fault.
Beware of the severity of the Court of Cassation in matters of inexcusable fault!
Employers, "Prevention is better than cure" and be well support in managing employees.