Responsabilité Civile - would this apply in this instance?

Earlier this evening my partner went to our neighbour to drop off a letter that had been mistakenly posted in our letterbox. It was approx 7:30 and so was already dark and there were no lights on in front of their property.

Unbeknownst to my partner, our neighbour has started doing some building work. They have dug a trench that’s about 75 CMs deep in front of their house which my partner tripped over whilst walking towards their house. Considering the amount of pain she’s in, I suspect she has bruised or broken a rib. As a result, I fear it’s unlikely she’ll be able to work for a few weeks whilst it heals as, unfortunately, she isn’t desk-bound like me but has a physically-demanding job.

Does anyone know if the neighbour leaving the trench exposed and without any lighting falls foul (no pun intended) of their obligations under their responsabilité civile? Does the fact that it happened on their property alter anything - are you still liable if someone ventures on your property and injures themself? I presume the neighbour is using a builder, so would it be the builder’s responsibility rather than the neighbour?

We get on very, very well with the neighbour and I’m not normally the type of person who would consider bringing legal action, but as well as the pain she’s in it looks like my partner will be negatively impacted financially as she’s unable to work… all over something that wasn’t her fault.

Sorry to hear about your partner.

I have a funny feeling this comes under Accidents de la Vie which you may have been sold alongside some other insurance.

I know it’s tough but TBH if you try to get anything off the neighbours I think you are opening a path to hell.

Even if, technically, it could well be that they were supposed to know someone would be stumbling about in the dark trying to do them a kind deed and not leave 2 and a half foot trenches open. Whatever the legal position I would not open the question of responsibility. Different if they do, of course and I would be surprised if their builder would volunteer


I imagine this is probably covered, as not much different from, say, a piece of fence falling onto a neighbour and causing harm.

However, if she can’t work won’t she be covered by an arret maladie?

It is not necessarily a big drama here. Our dog broke a friend’s brand new expensive glasses and he automatically asked for our insurance details. Which we gave him, he claimed, got his compensation and that was the end of the story. So if there is a financial implication then just ask calmly as a matter of routine.


I did the same last night, but no ditch, thankfully!
I hope your partner makes a speedy recovery :pray:

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Most cases of “responsabilité civile” that reach the courts are almost always about whether the person who suffered the injury was behaving as would a “bon père de famille” (yes, I know it is very patriarchal, but hey). In other words, was your wife behaving in a responsible manner, for example, as it was dark, did she have a torch when she entered the property outside of what might normally be considered neighbourly visiting hours ? If she didn’t, why not ?

These are the kind of questions that get asked when trying to assess liabilities.

As to whether or not the neighbour should, or shouldn’t have, put up some kind of indication on their private property that there was an area of danger, I would imagine that there is a whole load of case law out there that would find answers suggesting “le tout et son contraire”. You can be held liable for the most insignificant of things, even if they occur on your property. Booby traps for example. A branch flicking in someone’s face and poking their eye out, etc.

Anecdotally, I remember when living in Germany, reading of a civil liability case where a person accidentally tripped on a public stone covered footpath, a pebble pinged off and hit a male dog, wandering off to the side of the path, in one of its testicles, and the owner of the dog sued the person who tripped up for irreparable damage to the reproductive value of their dog…

Needless to say, as others have already mentioned, raising the prospect of making a claim on the insurance of the neighbour is a double-edged sword…


Thanks for the replies, everyone. It’s been enlightening. Seems my partner has no intention of pursuing this, and in the light of day I think she’s probably right and we’ll just put this down as one of those things. The x-ray showed bruising but no broken ribs, so hopefully she won’t be incapacitated for too long.

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Having said what we’ve said…one day, sitting on our terrace or theirs in the sun with a drink … one day, casually, with a big smile and just as a funny story…I’m not sure I wouldn’t tell the story of one’s own silliness blundering about in the dark without a torch and falling into a hole… big smiles as a funny story when it fits to drop it in if a conversation opens up an opportunity to do it smoothly and then lightly pass onto something else funny… without obviously eliciting it, I’d be interested in any reaction or none at all or maybe…just maybe something later.

But I would never put at risk my good relations with the neighbours by doing any more.

Like Ricepudding I thought there’s so many pros and cons on this it might make an excellent exam question for legal students.

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I’m not sure I agree. My experience of our french friends and their attitudes is that there is a completely pragmatic and direct approach to these things. We are frequently taken aback at how readily they call on their insurance policies, where we wouldn’t bother. And so it doesn’t necessarily cause ill-feeling as it is a routine thing. As long as it is done politely and without recrimination, then that is possible.

Neighbourhood feuds do of course happen frequently, but usually as a result pf people being rude and disrespectful. Or taking liberties. Faire marcher l’assurance is a different matter.