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Who is liable if someone is injured while viewing a French house?

Often it is the owner of the property – or their insurers – who pays compensation but not always as a recent court case shows

A recent court case put the onus on estate agents to make sure buildings are safe before allowing viewings Pic: goodluz / Shutterstock

Estate agents are likely to become increasingly vigilant of clients after a court judgement ruled they could be held liable for injuries sustained during viewings.

In most cases, it is the owner of the property – or their insurers – who pays compensation when visitors fall through the floor.

However, the case of a roofer who fell eight metres from a loft and ended up in hospital with a cracked skull has shown that agents could be billed too.

Read more: Second home hotspots, pergolas, cracks: Five French property updates

Legal arguments

The man had been brought in by an estate agent to provide an estimate for replacing the roof of a property before a sale.

He stepped on a rusted grille cut into the floor, originally created to provide additional light below, which had been covered over with a piece of cardboard.

The owners’ insurers initially refused to pay compensation, insisting the roofer was responsible for looking after himself (des choses que l’on a sous sa garde) according to statutory civil law.

They said he should have realised the loft floor was in a bad state and taken appropriate precautions, but this was rejected in court.

‘Duty to assess risk’

The owners then argued that the estate agent was responsible because they had warned him of the danger – something the agent denied. Again, the court ruled against the owners.

However, when the case went to appeal in Nancy, the estate agent was ordered to accept half the liability. Judges said the agent had a responsibility to ask the owners about dangers and to assess risk before allowing third parties into the building for viewings.

Cleared in court

Estate agents are not always ordered to pay out.

In another case, after visitors fell through a floor and sued, the agent was cleared of responsibility by a court in Montpellier because the floor showed no obvious signs of weakness.

Similarly, an agent was cleared by a Paris court after visitors fell while walking over a covered window during a viewing. The court said it was impossible for the agent to predict what would happen.

Agents can be victims too

Estate agents can be victims too, as shown by the case of a woman who stepped through the front door of a building straight into a hole, breaking vertebrae in her back.

The hole had been left uncovered after workmen removed rotten floorboards from the entry hall five months earlier.

The owner had not told the agency, and was ordered by the same court in Nancy which ruled in the roofer case to pay €130,000 compensation.

Related articles:

Can we sue French estate agent over non-sale if price was too high?

French property: Buyers paying estate agent fees could save cash

Carpets, shutters: five things they don't tell you about French houses

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