Many household and car insurance contracts include something known as protection juridique, often referred to by insurance agents as PJ.
When it is not included in the initial package, it is sometimes offered as a €1 add-on to reward customer loyalty, usually on an anniversary of the contract signing.
This legal insurance allows you to hire an expert or a lawyer to defend yourself, either in a ‘friendly settlement’ or before a court, if you come into conflict with a third party.
An estimated 40% of house and car insurance policies come with this cover, often without the client being aware.
When it comes in a package, the scope is often limited. If attached to car insurance, for example, it will only come into effect with vehicle-related problems such as accident damage or problems with a mechanic.
Similarly, when attached to multi-risk household insurance, it will cover cases related to the insured building, but not other areas.
Read more: How can I obtain free law advice in France?
A British couple in the Charente had cause to use their protection juridique after part of their barn wall collapsed during building work. Their contractor had let a 16-year-old work experience student clear away the base of an old wall with a jackhammer, even though the builder and other workers had noted that the wall was starting to bulge and should be repaired.
When the wall partially collapsed, fortunately with only a big fright for the youngster, the builder tried to blame the owners.
He also said a digger operator, who had earlier excavated 30cm of soil from the floor of the barn without incident, had provoked the collapse and should pay.
The owners were able, after a call to their insurers and an on-site visit, to use the protection juridique included in their multi-risk household policy.
The insurance agent arranged a 45-minute meeting between the builder, the digger operator and the owners a week after the incident, alongside an expert who worked for the insurance company.
The expert wrote a procès-verbal of the incident, which was signed by all parties, and gave his opinion that the builder was responsible and should rebuild the wall at no cost to the owner. This was done, taking one mason three days.
The expert’s fee, amounting to €300, was entirely covered by the insurance company.
In theory, if the builder had contested the outcome, the PJ would have covered the cost of a trial, but the insurance agent was evasive when asked if this would have been the case – two hours of trial would cost a lot more than an expert’s site visit.
Most insurance companies offer more comprehensive PJ in addition to the cover that comes as standard in household and car insurance contracts. This usually costs between €70 and €100 a year.
It is also possible to tailor a policy from a list of options, or add other things, something which can quickly bump up the cost.
This can include cover for the cost of a divorce, legal protection for work problems or for landlords renting a property, and insurance against bad surprises when building. Criminal cases against policy-holders are almost never covered by this insurance.