Courts in Europe have so far spared Volkswagen from steep compensation payments to owners of vehicles implicated in the automaker's diesel emissions scandal, unlike in the United States. The carmaker is far from out of the proverbial woods, however, as a new wave of lawsuits will soon be filed, according to German consumer advocate myRight.
With myRight’s first case, which is intended to force Volkswagen to buy back the impacted vehicles, likely to be decided in favor of VW, the advocacy group’s legal team is preparing an aggressive response that includes not just an appeal, but a fresh round of suits. In its appeal, the group argues that this is not merely a matter of German law, but of European Union law. The assertion—which Volkswagen denies—is that VW violated EU law by selling vehicles that utilized software in violation of EU regulations. If the appeal is successful, the case will proceed to the European Court of Justice, which has the authority to override the German courts in these matters.
The ten new cases set to be brought by myRight are what is known as “test” cases. In Europe, a test case is one that, in very general terms, sets a precedent in a specific circumstance. Unlike a class-action lawsuit, a test case isn’t likely to immediately result in massive fines for the manufacturer.
Such test cases could, however, open the door to much larger lawsuits. In the specific circumstances here, the test cases are akin to an opening salvo, defining the legal basis over which a much larger class-action lawsuit will be fought.
The cases are in response to another group’s lawsuit against several major German cities, and even Germany’s motoring authority. Those lawsuits aim to ban the cars in question from the road. Such a ban would clearly change the scope of the impact on individual owners, hence the new claims.
On the heels of the various test cases, myRight is also preparing a class action on behalf of up to 25,000 Volkswagen owners, to be filed this fall. Unlike the test cases, that would bring a potentially heavy financial penalty to VW.
As the situation continues to unfold, the scope of Volkswagen’s potential financial liability is still increasing.
-- by Aaron Miller