Mentioned in Article 1 of Law 85-677 of 5 July 1985, "involvement" appears to be one of the essential components of the compensation scheme for victims of traffic accidents.
However, while the involvement of a land motor vehicle which has come into contact with the seat of the damage poses (a priori) few difficulties, the assessment of its involvement in the absence of contact generates major uncertainties.
Indeed, it is now settled case-law that the land motor vehicle in contact with the seat of the damage is necessarily involved, whether the latter is stationary, even when parked, or moving. (Cass. 2nd civ., 25 Jan. 1995- Court of Cassation, 2nd civil chamber, 30 April 2014 - n° 13-16.291)
However, the absence of contact does not preclude recognition of the involvement of a vehicle (Cass. crim., 30 Oct. 1989.).
The vehicle's "any role" or "involvement in any way" in the accident was then considered.
Thus, even if the mere presence of a vehicle at the scene of the accident is not sufficient to establish its involvement (Civ. 2e, 25 May 1994, No. 92-19.200 - Civ. 2e, 13 Dec. 2012, No. 11-19.696.), the latter is recognised as soon as the vehicle played a disruptive role.
For example, it was possible to retain the involvement of an overtaken vehicle, travelling at a very reduced speed and encroaching on the roadway, despite the absence of contact with the seat of the damage. (Civ. 2e, 18 Apr. 2019, No. 18-14.948.).
More than contact, it is the causal role, broadly understood, that seems to determine the involvement of a vehicle in a traffic accident.
In this sense, the 2nd civil chamber of the Court of Cassation issued on January 16, 2020, a ruling that further dispels the shadows regarding the involvement of a vehicle in the absence of contact.
In this case, the mother and sister of a victim of a traffic accident, summoned the owner and driver of a tractor on the grounds of his involvement within the meaning of Article 1 of Law No. 85-677 of 5 July 1985, the latter having played a role in the accident.
The victim had skidded on the slippery roadway due to the presence of oil, unintentionally spilled by the tractor due to a leak.
The owner of the tractor and its driver complained to the decision of the civil division of the Court of Appeal of Saint-Denis of 20 April 2018 that they were jointly and severally liable to compensate the victim for the tractor's involvement in the accident.
It is therefore by a judgment dated 16 January 2020 that the Court of Cassation (Cass. 2e., 16 Jan. 2020, n° 18-23.787, P+B+I) confirmed the Court of Appeal without its assessment of the involvement of the tractor, by dismissing the appeal.
"(...) But having exactly recalled, on the grounds adopted, that is involved, within the meaning of Article 1 of Law No 85-677 of 5 July 1985, any vehicle having played any role in the occurrence of an accident and then found that Z's vehicle had skidded on the roadway made slippery by the presence of oil "involuntarily spilled" by the tractor driven by Mr X, the Court of Appeal (...) rightly deduced that the tractor was involved in the accident.
It should be noted here that the Court makes a literal appreciation of the notion of "any role" already identified in previous case law.
Thus "involvement", a term intended to be broad by the legislator, is assessed in favour of the victim, and seems to be retained as soon as a vehicle plays a "role", of whatever nature, in the occurrence of the accident.