There is always an increase in chimney fires over the period, as many rural households use chimneys as a source of heating in the winter
Despite new regulations on how often chimneys need to be cleaned (see below) accidents still occur.
In one case from 2022, a fire in the north of France occurred a few weeks after a chimney sweeper (ramoneur) had swept the flue as part of the annual cleaning process.
The insurance company agreed to pay the property owners for the damages, but claimed the sweeper was liable – and the local court in Amiens agreed.
The court claimed that the sweep had failed to inform the owners over the faulty installation of their chimney’s insert (the metal boxes placed directly at the foot of the fireplace), and therefore failed in his duty as a professional of the trade.
Professionals in certain fields such as builders, chimney sweepers, plumbers etc are usually found liable for defects relating to their work/safety overviews, due to their positions as ‘experts’.
The principle is that a professional should notice faults that a layperson cannot and is therefore responsible for any issues.
Appeals court overturned ruling
However, this ruling was overturned in October 2023 by the cour de cassation, France’s highest judicial court, after an appeal.
It said that the chimney sweep was only responsible for the fire if a direct link between his actions and the fire itself was proven.
This court stated Article 1240 of France’s Civil Code as the basis of this ruling – “Any act whatsoever that causes damage to another person obliges the person through whose fault it occurred to make reparation for it.”
In this case, it was impossible to prove a direct link between the chimney sweep and the fire.
Reminder for tradespeople to inform homeowners
Lawyers have pointed out that the ruling in the case is an anomaly. They say it is not the norm in rulings of this nature and that in most cases tradespeople will be held liable for damages.
Tradespeople, particularly those assessing properties for safety features (after an installation from another worker or company) should check these are up to standard and if not should inform the homeowners immediately.
The full response from the cour de cassation can be found below.