The ruling overturns a decision by a lower French court in 2013 which had found the body liable and ordered the company to pay millions of euros in compensation to distributors and victims.
TÜV certified that implants made by French firm Poly Implant Prothese (PIP) conformed to safety rules — even though they were subsequently found to contain substandard, industrial-grade silicone gel.
The body has maintained it was never its job to check the actual implants, and their task was only to inspect the manufacturing process.
The appeals court in the southern city of Toulon found that TÜV and its French subsidiary had “fulfilled the obligations incumbent upon them as a certifying body (and) committed no error leading to criminal responsiblity.”
But TÜV is not out of the woods yet, as it faces a number of cases against it in Germany, where 5,000 women are believed to have been affected by the faulty implants.
The anonymous plaintiff in a German PIP case being interviwed outside the Bundesgerichtshof (Supreme Court) in Karlsruhe. Photo:DPA
One woman has fought her case all the way to the Constitutional Court, which has referred the question of whether TÜV took on responsibility for patient safety by auditing the manufacturing process to the Court of Justice of the European Union.
Hundreds of thousands affected
The scandal first emerged in 2010 after doctors noticed abnormally high rupture rates in PIP implants and gathered steam worldwide in 2011, with some 300,000 women in 65 countries believed to have received the faulty implants.
Six distributors of the implants from Bulgaria, Brazil, Italy, Syria, Mexico and Romania and nearly 1,700 women – most of them from South America but also from France and Britain – sued TÜV.
The lower French court ordered the German body to compensate the women €3,000 euros each while waiting for individual medical or financial assessments to be conducted on each plaintiff and TÜV paid out a total of €5.8 million.
“They will technically have to pay back this money but no decision has been taken on a request for reimbursement,” said a source close to the safety body.