In a recent decision, the High Court considered an application by a Belgian domiciled defendant to set aside product liability proceedings that had been issued against it in Ireland for want of jurisdiction. The plaintiff, an Irish domiciled luxury coach hire business, issued proceedings against the Belgian defendant in tort for the alleged negligent manufacture of the coach in question, and sought damages in the amount that it had paid for the coach and in relation to alleged loss of earnings.
The general principle on establishing jurisdiction under EU law is that the courts in the place of the defendant’s domicile have jurisdiction, as set out in EU Council Regulation 1215/2012 (Brussels Regulation). There are several exemptions to that general rule, for example in relation to matters involving:
- Consumer contracts, and
- Contracts of employment
In this case, the plaintiff sought to rely on the “special jurisdiction” rules set out in Article 7 of the Brussels Regulation. This sets out specific circumstances in which a party domiciled in one Member State may be sued in another Member State.
In claims for tort, jurisdiction is determined in accordance with Article 7 (2) of the Brussels Regulation which provides that a party may be sued “in the courts for the place where the harmful event occurred or may occur”.
Relevant Principles in assessing “the place where the harmful event” occurred
The Belgian defendant argued that if it was negligent in the manufacture of the coach, the place of the occurrence of any harmful event was the place of manufacture ie Belgium. The plaintiff counter argued that the defects in the coach did not manifest, and that the damage it suffered as a result, did not occur until it was put into use in Ireland.
The Court distilled the following principles from CJEU and Irish case law in relation to the determination of whether a plaintiff has established an entitlement to sue a defendant in tort in a place other than its domicile:
- The basis for the exception to the general rule is the close connection between the action and the jurisdiction in which the plaintiff seeks to litigate such that it was reasonably foreseeable to the defendant that it might be sued there.
- The plaintiff must establish that the harmful event occurred in Ireland.
- The harmful event may be taken as having occurred either at the place of the event giving rise to the damage or at the place where the damage occurred. If these are different, the plaintiff has the right to choose to sue in either of these locations.
- In the case of defective products, the place of the event giving rise to the damage will always be the place where the product was manufactured.
- The place where damage occurs can encompass the place where initial damage occurred as a result of the normal use of the defective product. This is sometimes described as the manifestation of the damage.
- The place where the damage occurred cannot be interpreted so broadly as to encompass any place where the harmful consequences of an event may be felt. Therefore, a plaintiff cannot seek to recover consequential financial loss in the place of its domicile in respect of an event which has already caused initial damage which has occurred and been suffered by him in another Member State.
- However, where a defect in a product causes the product to be worth significantly less than the purchaser paid for it, the resulting loss may constitute direct damage arising from the purchase rather than indirect damage consequent on the initial defect.
In applying these principles to the facts of the case, the Court found that the plaintiff had established that the Irish court had jurisdiction because the harmful event complained of, in this case the actual damage suffered, had occurred in Ireland. In so finding, the Court held that Ireland was the place in which the damaged “actually manifested itself” and, that context “the manifestation …is the place where the product was first used as intended and where the defects impacted upon its intended use”.
The decision is a useful authority for parties seeking to litigate product liability cases with a cross border element in Ireland.
For more information on conflict of laws and product liability, contact a member of our Dispute Resolution or Products Liability team.
The content of this article is provided for information purposes only and does not constitute legal or other advice.
 Joe Moroney Coach Hire Limited v Moseley in the South Limited and Van Hool NV  IEHC 586
 In these proceedings, the plaintiff also sued a UK domiciled company that had sold it the coach in question in negligence and for breach of contract. The High Court struck out plaintiff’s claim against that defendant finding that the Irish court did not have jurisdiction.
 Per Article 4 of the Brussels Regulation.
 Joe Moroney Coach Hire Limited v Moseley in the South Limited and Van Hool NV  IEHC 586 at .