Over 40 years ago VW had attempted to cheat on emissions by installing temperature-sensitive devices on 25,000 models in the US. They eventually settled on a $120,000 penalty. Today however they are accused of installing a sophisticated technology which recognises an emission testing environment and adjusts the performance of the vehicle. This technology has apparently been installed on over 11 million vehicles world-wide on multiple brands and models.
To date VW have recalled nearly 500,000 cars in the US and set aside approximately £4.7bn to cover costs. In the US legal action is already being taken against VW and some people here are predicting that it is set to rival the legal fallout from the infamous PPI scandal. However, it is not yet certain that litigation in the UK will follow.
There is potential for governments and agencies to bring proceeding under their own jurisdiction. VW is currently being investigated in the UK, France, Italy, Germany, Canada, and the US. The EPA in the US has the capacity to issue fines upward of $14bn, with the US Justice Department investigating criminal proceedings. This would not prevent the individual states from bringing their own action against VW if there has been a breach of state codes.
There is a definite level of uncertainty as to how far the £4.7bn set aside will stretch in fixing the 11 million vehicles.
Product Liability Lawyer Oliver Thorne commented, “If it is found that the device has been effective in defeating the EU emissions testing then I would envisage a tranche of claims against VW will follow. People will have bought vehicles for the low emissions the produce. If it emerges that the emissions emitted are higher than represented, not only have these owners been misled in buying these cars, but the vehicles may have also significantly depreciated in value.”
Slee Blackwell Solicitors, who are currently representing hundreds of women in the PIP breast implant group litigation both here in the UK and in France, are waiting to find out if the vehicles have managed to defeat the EU testing system. If this is the case then VW could find that they have to start recalling UK cars which in turn is to lead to a flurry of legal claims against VW from car owners in this country.
The VW automotive group share price has taken a tumble since news of this scandal broke on the 18th of September. There is also evidence of investor apprehension with other German automotive brands such as BMW and Daimler. A number of car manufacturers have openly stated that they do not use “defeat device” software or hardware, while others merely state that they have not broken any laws.
VW has been very contrite about the scandal. VW’s American boss admitted, “we’ve totally screwed up”, while the Chief Executive confessed that VW had broken the trust of their customers and the public.
We will be monitoring the situation carefully and offering advice to VW owners if it appears that a compensation claim in the UK is viable.