Injuries from road accidents rose significantly from the 1920s. Between 1950 and 1970, deaths on the road rose from 8634
to 16,928. Inspired by developments in the United States, a French professor, Tunc (1965), argued that, since road accidents rarely involved real moral blame, there should be compensation without proof of fault for the victims of accidents. France had moved to risk-based liability, but the difficulty and cost of suing the person responsible for the car in court was still a problem for the victim. These ideas were rejected for a long time, but were eventually accepted in 1985 by the French legislature, which replaced delictual liability with an insurance-based system for road accidents.
Under the Road Traffic Act 1985, the keeper of a car is liable to compensate the injured victim when his vehicle is ‘involved’ in the accident. The victim does not have to prove that the driver was at fault. Indeed, the law goes further. It often allows the victim to recover compensation from the keeper of the car (in practice his insurance company) even where the victim has been at fault in causing his injury. Here, this law distinguishes between different victims:
French law is now generous to the victim who is not the driver of a car. For example, in 1988 a pedestrian was awarded compensation against the keeper of a lorry despite reckless behaviour. Mr. Lahrer had been drinking and wanted to get home. So, on a dark, wet evening, he stood in the middle of an unlit main road in dark clothing and tried to wave at cars to strop and give him a lift. He was nearly run over by a bus, but this did not stop him trying to hitch a lift. Eventually he was run over by a lorry. Because Mr Lahrer should have been visible in the headlights, his reckless conduct was not the sole cause of his injury and he was able to recover compensation from the company running the lorry.