London/Frankfurt, April 6: Volkswagen suffered a big setback in one of the UK’s largest consumer lawsuits on Monday after London’s High Court ruled the company fitted its cars with “defeat device” software that circumvented pollution emissions limits.
VW now faces further litigation, which will determine whether it is liable to pay damages to more than 90,000 British claimants, and how much they will receive, the Financial Times reported.
The world’s largest carmaker has paid out more than €31billion in costs related to ‘Dieselgate’, including $10billion in a settlement reached with US consumers months after the scandal broke in 2015.
In February, VW agreed a €830million settlement with more than 400,000 claimants in Germany, where it also faces many individual cases.
However, the automaker is still fighting the High Court lawsuit in the UK, where British customers claim they are due damages after they were sold cars that artificially lowered emissions of nitrogen oxide during testing.
VW said it was considering an appeal on the decisions reached on Monday, before proceeding to the main trial.
Lawyers for the carmaker argue that the vehicles in question have always been safe, roadworthy and legal to drive in the UK, and that an update rolled out in the aftermath of ‘Dieselgate’ dealt with the software issue.
On Monday, Justice Waksman ruled that VW’s vehicles were installed with a defeat device and also that as a matter of EU law, he was bound by the findings of the German Federal Motor Transport Authority (KBA) in 2015 that VW vehicles contained a prohibited workaround.
In his ruling, the judge said he was “far from alone” in reaching his conclusions, as the KBA and “numerous courts and other bodies in various jurisdictions” all agreed that the software function had been used to cheat emissions tests.
He said his conclusions did not depend on court decisions elsewhere because “the answer is so plain in any event”. He was also critical of parts of VW’s defence describing some of its arguments as “specious” and “hopeless”.
Lawyers representing the 91,000 British consumers welcomed the ruling.
Gareth Pope, lawyer at Slater and Gordon, said: “This damning judgment confirms what our clients have known for a long time, but which VW has refused to accept: namely that VW fitted defeat devices into millions of vehicles in the UK in order to cheat emissions tests.”
Bozena Michalowska-Howells, a lawyer at Leigh Day that is representing some claimants, urged the carmaker to consider settlement negotiations “so our clients are not forced to drag VW through the courts and be faced with further years of litigation to determine their losses”.
VW said it was “disappointed”, but the ruling related to “preliminary issues” and it would continue to defend its position “robustly”. It said: “To be clear, today’s decision does not determine liability or any issues of causation or loss for any of the causes of actions claimed. These remain to be determined by the court as the case continues.”