Imagine: your worked hard and earned enough to buy a small house on the Dutch island of Schiermonnikoog. Now, the only thing left is to fix a fireplace and you would have a cosy living room. You hire a local contractor to fix the job. However, he places a pipe incorrectly which leads to a fire in your house. Your neighbour’s roof is burnt. Your neighbour knows that the contractor almost has no money to pay for the damages. He wants you to pay for everything. Can he make you pay for all the damages according to the law, despite the absence of your fault?
Yes, he can, because here is a case of a so-called strict liability (Dutch: risicoaansprakelijkheid). You might think that there is no fault as such. You called a contractor, who is a trustworthy person and has already successfully fixed several houses in your neighbourhood. He did all the work. He is a specialist and he ought to know what he was doing.
The legislator wanted to protect the injured parties and make sure that the fault can be easily established (so the owner is always to blame in case of a house that can bring danger to other parties). More specifically, Dutch civil code has a special article, whereby a fault in such cases lays by an owner of a house, art. 6:174. There, no actual fault is needed by an owner in order to establish his responsibility. It is assumed and does not have to be proved by a person who sustained damages.
Would it be different for you if you bought a house somewhere else? Yes, but not always. For instance, the similar rule of strict liability exists in Germany and Russia, which are, as the Netherlands, civil law countries. In England, common law country, strict liability principle is not so broad, meaning it will not be presumed. Fault will depend on an actual fault of an owner and circumstances of a case.
Therefore, as an owner, it is advisable to have insurance. Still, you might think that it was not your fault, but a legislator has another opinion. As for a legislator, maybe it is a good idea to start thinking about changing this a bit outdated law, where guilt can be easier established than 20 years ago, with an appearance of digital contracts (so it is clear that a contractor was responsible for a defect), video cameras which can be easily installed (whereby actions of a contractor could be traced). All these can be used as an evidence of someone’s guilt. At least in our case there should be at least some responsibility of a contractor for his actions. So, a joint liability could be a reasonable solution, which is, however, not present in the Dutch Civil Code.
Written by Anna Grigorjeva