In the EU, VW has not admitted wrongdoing or liability and it continues to resist claims for compensation © Reuters
January 28, 2018
Almost 60,000 people have signed up so far to sue German carmaker Volkswagen Group over its emissions scandal in what is shaping up to be one of the biggest group actions to come before London’s High Court.
VW is facing litigation in the UK — and in other jurisdictions — in the wake of claims that it manufactured and sold cars with diesel engines that failed to comply with EU legislation on emissions.
The carmaker installed “defeat devices” — a software device that artificially lowered nitrogen oxides (NOx) during testing — in 11m diesel cars sold between 2008 and 2015. These included 1.2m cars sold in the UK under the Volkswagen, Seat, Audi and Škoda brands.
The High Court will be asked to approve an application by law firms Your Lawyers and Slater & Gordon for a group litigation order (GLO) — similar to a US class action lawsuit — next month which will enable the legal action to proceed.
So far 10,000 claimants have signed up with Your Lawyers, with Slater & Gordon attracting a further 45,000 and other law firms such as Leigh Day also signing up car owners.
In the US, where the scandal was exposed and where NOx emissions limits are more onerous, VW has admitted guilt, agreed to pay a $4.3bn fine and even offered to buy back half a million of the rigged cars. The scandal has cost VW approximately $25bn in the US.
But in the EU, VW has not admitted wrongdoing or liability and it continues to resist claims for compensation. Instead it has offered a technical “fix” for affected cars and, in some jurisdictions including the UK, it has offered enhanced trade-in terms and similar non-financial incentives on affected vehicles.
Gareth Pope, a lawyer at Slater & Gordon who is leading the actions, said: “This has potential to be the largest class action the UK has ever seen. But the 45,000 claimants so far registered still represents a small fraction of the 1.2m current and former owners of affected cars who are eligible to join the litigation.”
Aman Johal, a director at Your Lawyers, said some of his clients have also complained their cars became sluggish after VW updates were installed to fix the defeat devices.
In a statement, VW said: “Our consistent position has been that the instigation of legal proceedings in England is premature for a number of reasons. As we have said all along, we will defend these claims robustly, and we have made it clear to the claimant law firms that we do not anticipate that any of our UK customers will have suffered loss as a result of the NOx issue.
“We have implemented the technical measures in approximately 820,000 vehicles in the UK and in over 6m vehicles across Europe, with the overwhelming majority of customers in question fully satisfied. Given the English High Court proceedings have commenced, it would not be appropriate for us to comment any further at this time.”
The High Court case is being funded by third-party litigation funding where third parties finance the legal costs and take a slice of any compensation won during the court battle. If the claimants are successful it will be up to the courts to decide on the size of the award.
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