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Commercial Court rules on French limitation law


Cockerill J has today handed down judgment in Lombard North Central Plc & Anor v Airbus Helicopters SAS. The judgment had to determine a series of points of construction, as well as two limitation points. The Judge determined the points of construction in favour of Lombard and the limitation points in favour of Airbus.

Most notably, the judgment resolves a novel point of French limitation law. The Judge heard expert evidence from French law professors, and ruled on when, under French law, the 5-year limitation period provided for under Article L. 110-4 of the French Commercial Code commences.

The terms of Article L. 110-4 itself, whilst providing for a 5-year period, do not prescribe when that period begins to run. The judgment addresses that question for the following claims:

  • A claim for breach of the statutory warranty against hidden defects arising out of Articles 1641 and 1644 of the French Civil Code. The judgment held that time starts to run from the date of sale or delivery.
  • An independent claim for damages arising out of Article 1645 of the French Civil Code. The judgment recognised that such a claim can be brought alongside and as part of a statutory warranty claim or can be brought independently and autonomously. Notwithstanding the autonomous nature of the latter claim, the judgment held that both such claims should be treated the same for limitation purposes, and that both should be treated in the same way as the statutory warranty claim.
  • A claim for damages for breach of the duty of prudence, monitoring and vigilance (a duty derived from the case-law of the Court of Cassation, including, in particular, a case called Distilbène). The judgment held that time starts to run for such a claim from the date of delivery.

The judgment is here.

Fionn Pilbrow QC, Jon Scott and Jon Lawrence represented Lombard North Central Plc and NatWest Markets plc, instructed by Sullivan & Cromwell LLP