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13 J. Consumer Pol'y 1 (1990)

handle is hein.journals/jrncpy13 and id is 1 raw text is: Thomas Wilhelmsson
Social Force Majeure - A New Concept in
Nordic Consumer Law
ABSTRACT. Empirical research from various countries indicates that overindebt-
edness of consumers is, to a considerable extent, attributable to unexpected changes
in the consumer's situation caused by illness, unemployment, and other such circum-
stances. It is therefore relevant to discuss whether and in what way such circum-
stances should be taken into account in the rules of private law. In Nordic
(especially Finnish) legislation, mainly from the 1980s, there are several provisions
which provide for mitigation of sanctions against a defaulting consumer if the delay
is caused by illness, unemployment, etc. Such rules are contained, inter alia, in the
legislation on consumer credit and on interest on delayed payments.
On the basis of these provisions as well as some practices developed by the
consumer authorities, a general principle of social force majeure is seen to be
evolving. This doctrinal principle would enable the courts and other decision-
makers to take into account unfavourable changes in the consumer's health, work,
housing, and family situation in cases not regulated by specific legislation, e.g., by
giving the consumer the right of withdrawal from burdensome contracts in such
circumstances or to protect his right to retain electricity and telephone connections
in spite of his temporary payment difficulties. The principle is expected to carry
increasing weight in the future, especially in the practice of the consumer authorities.
Strong arguments speak in favour of the general acceptance of such a principle.
The problems of the credit society are increasing in most developed
countries. A growing number of social problems result from the ever
more common cases of overindebted consumers. The modern debt
imprisonment (Kohler, 1984, p. 490; Holzscheck, 1986, p. 81) - a
situation in which the debt of the consumer constantly grows, in spite
of his efforts to pay, because of interest for delayed payments, debt
collection costs, new, more expensive loans, etc. - easily produces
cases for social welfare: The overindebted consumer ultimately loses
his motivation to work and is thrown out of his home.
It is also well known that the causes of such situations of over-
indebtedness are not necessarily attributable to the mismanagement
of the consumer. Empirical research from many countries demon-
strates quite clearly the fact that the most common causes of over-
indebtedness are to be found elsewhere (see, e.g., Caplovitz, 1974, p.
53; Cranston, 1984, p. 205; Holzscheck, Hormann, & Daviter,
1982, p. 339; Adler, 1986). The economic problems of the con-

Journal of Consumer Policy 13: 1-14, 1990.
O 1990 KluwerAcademic Publishers. Printed in the Netherlands.

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