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Legal Expenses Insurance Cover in France

Saturday 13 May 2017

With access to legal aid in France becoming more difficult to obtain, it makes sense to consider legal expenses cover in conjunction with your house insurance policy.

In a recent article in our Newsletter we explained the recent changes in rules on 'aide juridictionelle', which now restricts 100% assistance to those having a gross income of no greater than around €12,000 a year, with additions for dependants.

For those unable to obtain access, an alternative is to opt for a legal expenses cover as part of your house or car insurance policy.

This cover is called assurance de protection juridique, the object of which is to provide insurance cover for costs associated with bringing or defending a legal action against a third-party action.

So the cover operates as both assistance towards obtaining damages or other remedy, and to defending against a claim made against you.

However, it expressly does not provide cover against damages that may be awarded against you bringing or defending a case; it is the costs of the procedure that are covered, not the outcome.

The terms on which such a policy operates will differ between insurance companies and policies, with limitations on both the types of cases in which it will be available and a ceiling on the costs it will cover.

Generally speaking, the range of disputes that it covers is wide, including neighbour disputes, consumer complaints, car or house accident claims, medical related claims, family disputes and those with government agencies or departments.

By contrast, business disputes are often excluded. Minor disputes, involving what the insurer may consider to be trivial sums may also be excluded.

The scope of the policies does not necessarily mean the insurer would be willing to provide assistance if they do not consider there is a reasonable chance of success. If there is disagreement on this point, then it is possible to take the matter to arbitration.

All members of the household will generally be covered, even though the policy taken out in the sole name of one member of the family, although car insurance policies may only cover named individuals.

Whilst geographic limitations will also apply, it is not unusual for the policies to cover disputes within the EEA.

It is also usually the case that a waiting period of one to three months applies before the cover becomes operative, excluding pre-existing disputes.

The policies also go beyond mere assistance with the costs of an avocat, to include those in connection with mediation proceedings that are taken, as well as ancillary costs of a bailiff (huissier) and other professionals that may be required as part of the proceedings.

In addition, most insurance companies will offer a legal advice hotline, when it would be possible to clarify your legal position and the steps open to you.

In terms of cost ceilings, the policy itself will set out those that apply, including the maximum hourly rate that may be paid to an avocat, to the maximum sum in legal costs that will be covered.

You will not be required to use an avocat nominated by the insurance company, but if you use one whose rate is higher than that set out in the policy you will need to meet the supplementary costs.

The policy is available as an option to most comprehensive house and car insurance policies, although rarely with third-party insurance policies.

The cost of adding it to one of your insurance policies may be no more than €50 a year.

It can also be taken out as a distinct policy, although it is likely to cost more to do it this way.

You may also find that it is offered with your French bank credit or debit card, particularly those cards at the upper end of the market.

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