Around 220,000 car drivers in the Netherlands, England and Wales have joined forces in what could become a pan-European lawsuit against German carmaker Volkswagen (VW) seeking compensation over its “dieselgate” emissions scandal. Harcus Sinclair, a United Kingdom law firm, along with Dutch Foundation “Stichting Volkswagen Car Claim,” a U.S.-style class action on behalf of an estimated 180,000 Dutch VW car owners, have teamed up in this litigation. It’s believed this could spark a wave of coordinated litigation across Europe.
About 11 million VW cars worldwide were fitted with software to cheat diesel emissions tests that are designed to limit car fumes blamed for respiratory diseases and global pollution. As we have reported, the automaker has agreed to spend up to $25 billion in the United States to address claims from owners, environmental regulators, states and dealers and has offered to buy back about 500,000 polluting U.S. vehicles. However, VW has not reached a similar deal in Europe and faces billions of euros in claims from customers and investors.
The automaker has offered European drivers a software update for all affected vehicles, but lawyers say this does not resolve the problem and they are demanding adequate compensation. The Dutch Foundation, which says it has been trying to reach a “reasonable settlement” with VW, Europe’s largest car manufacturer, since 2015, said it was also “cooperating” with partners representing drivers in Austria, Germany and Switzerland, and was in talks with others in Spain, France, Italy, Poland, the Czech Republic and Scandinavia. Guido van Woerkom, director of the foundation, stated:
We are delighted to be teaming up with Harcus Sinclair UK Limited, who have done an excellent job in paving the way for car owners to seek redress from VW through the courts.
The expanding lawsuit is seeking compensation for damage suffered by VW, Audi, SEAT, Skoda and/or Porsche car owners, alleging VW and supplier Bosch were responsible for the sale of cars that breached toxic nitrogen oxides emissions rules.
Harcus Sinclair filed its lawsuit in January 2016. Thus far they have signed up about 41,000 English and Welsh VW drivers. A London trial is expected in early 2019. VW said it took the trust of its customers very seriously, but it claims no legal basis for consumer lawsuits. The carmaker says that’s because its plans to fix cars in Europe, coordinated with regulators and price fluctuations for diesel cars, were within a “normal range.” The company said:
To date, the owners of the 8.5 million affected European cars remain in the cold. All vehicles affected are and have been technically safe and roadworthy. They can be driven on roads without any limitations and can be sold without loss in residual value. Even if we were to hold talks with law firms we would maintain this position.
It will be most interesting to see how this expanded litigation will proceed. I would have to believe VW would make a sincere effort to settle at any early stage.
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