The Badinter law and a tramway’s dedicated lane

Written on
5 March 2024

Robert Badinter passed away on Friday February 9 at the age of 95.

A leading lawyer, Robert Badinter was appointed Keeper of the Seals under President François Mitterrand from 1981 to 1986.

Mr. BADINTER is best known as the man behind the bill to abolish the death penalty, enacted on October 9, 1981.

He was also a defender of human rights and against all kinds of discrimination.

Robert BADINTER also played an important role in improving victims’ rights.

In this context, Mr. BADINTER was behind Law no. 85-677 of July 5, 1985 to improve the situation of traffic accident victims and speed up compensation procedures, more commonly known as the BADINTER Law.

Paying him a modest tribute seemed natural and essential.

What could be more appropriate than to comment on a recent decision handed down on the basis of the BADINTER Act, interpreted in a broad and ever more favorable sense for victims, by the Second Civil Chamber of the Court of Cassation, in a ruling dated December 21, 2023 (Appeal No. 21/25.352).

 

As a reminder, article 1 of the BADINTER law states that :

“The provisions of this chapter apply, even when they are transported under contract, to the victims of a traffic accident involving a land motor vehicle and its trailers or semi-trailers, with the exception of railroads and tramways running on their own tracks.

The concept of a dedicated track was fairly clear for trains, but remained open to discussion for tramways, which operate in urban areas, and for which the concept of a dedicated track can regularly give rise to debate.

In a decision handed down on March 5, 2020, the Second Civil Chamber had already clarified the matter, ruling that the accident had occurred on a road that was not open to traffic and was clearly distinct from the lanes used by motor vehicles, marked by a raised kerb preventing them from encroaching, and by barriers preventing pedestrians from passing.

The crosswalk was marked by white stripes on the carriageway, leading to a grey surface running across the whole of the tramway tracks and interrupting the grassy carpet. Between the two tramway tracks, metal posts prevented cars from crossing but allowed pedestrians to pass.

The court also pointed out that the point of impact between the streetcar and the pedestrian was not on the pedestrian crossing, but on the part of the track reserved for the streetcar.

The tramway’s own traffic lane was therefore defined as a lane closed to normal traffic and physically separated from other traffic lanes, i.e. delimited.

The location of the point of impact is the final criterion for excluding the application of the Badinter law.

 

In a ruling handed down on December 21, 2023, the French Supreme Court (Cour de cassation) has once again had to rule on this issue of dedicated traffic lanes.

In this case, on June 9, 2011, a fifteen-year-old teenager lost his balance and swerved onto the tramway track running alongside the sidewalk on which he was walking. He then collided with the oncoming streetcar and fell onto the tracks.

The victim’s parents sued the tramway operator and their insurer under the French law of July 5, 1985, on their own behalf and as their son’s legal representatives.

The Court of Appeal considered that the provisions of the Badinter Act and the right to full compensation for the damage suffered by the plaintiffs were applicable to the accident.

Naturally, the operator and its insurer appealed to the French Supreme Court, arguing that the provisions of the Law of July 5, 1985 do not apply to tramways running on their own tracks.

A tramway lane is reserved for tramway traffic only, and is not intended for other users.

According to the appellants, the roadway where the accident occurred was divided into three traffic lanes: two contiguous tracks reserved for streetcars, and a third one-way track for other vehicles.

They also added that the road was bordered by a sidewalk.

This justified, according to the appellants, that the lane on which the accident occurred should be considered as being reserved for tramway traffic, and not intended for use by other vehicles or pedestrians.

Lastly, the plaintiffs considered that it was not necessary for the lane used by the tramway to be elevated or separated from the other lanes in order to qualify as a dedicated traffic lane.

They felt that the Court of Appeal had added conditions not provided for in Article 1 of the Badinter Act, by ruling that this lane was not reserved for tramway use, on the grounds that, at the point of impact, it was not separated from other lanes or the sidewalk by impassable obstacles or a barrier.

The Court of Cassation rejected the appeal.

It pointed out that the provisions of Chapter 1 of Law no. 85-677 of July 5, 1985, concerning compensation for victims of traffic accidents, are applicable, according to Article 1 of this law, to victims of accidents involving a motorized land vehicle and its trailers or semi-trailers, with the exception of railroads and tramways running on their own tracks.

The Court pointed out that the Court of Appeal had rightly noted that at the point of impact, there was no barrier separating the tramway track from the sidewalk, from which the victim had fallen, and that the height of the pavement did not make it possible to delimit this track.

The Court thus confirmed that the Court of Appeal, in exercising its sovereign discretion, had “correctly held that, at the point of impact, the tramway track was not its own, in that it was not isolated from the sidewalk it ran alongside, and rightly deduced that the law of July 5, 1985 applied to the accident.

With this ruling, the French Supreme Court confirms its position, reiterating the three criteria for assessment, which are clearly cumulative: exclusive use of the traffic lane, its delimitation, and the location of the point of impact.

A position that is undoubtedly favorable to victims and their compensation.

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