German class action lawsuit against VW starts

More than 400,000 Germans joined the fresh legal action against the carmaker

The Braunschweig Higher Regional Court opened on Monday a trial against VW with hearing VW customers who are seeking refunds on the full purchase price of their car. According to the German Justice Ministry, some 446,000 plaintiffs have joined the class action lawsuit, which is jointly organized by the Federation of German Consumer Organizations (vzbv) and the country's largest motoring club, ADAC.

VW has rejected the aim of the lawsuit, arguing that customers have no such claim because the cars remained perfectly functional. The carmaker has also repeatedly stressed that the software fixes it has offered have removed the problem of illegal emissions levels.

In November 2018, Parliament paved the way for the introduction of the American-style legal framework into German law by adopting the so-called Musterfeststellungsklage, which translates into Model Declaratory Proceedings. The decision was prompted by Volkswagen's diesel emissions manipulations unveiled in 2015 which are said to affect around 11 million cars around the world, 2.4 million of which were bought by Germans.

VW has been in hot water since US regulators showed in 2015 that the company had installed so-called defeat devices in its cars, enabling them to perform within emissions guidelines during testing, even if they emitted much higher levels of hazardous exhausts during normal driving conditions.

The cars bought by the plaintiffs range from Volkswagen's key brand VW to subsidiaries Audi, Seat and Skoda, and were all equipped with exhaust-gas manipulated diesel motors of the EA 189 type.

In a statement released on 20 September, the vzbv consumer group said the sheer number of people signing up shows that the suit is important to them. It noted that the legal action has halted the statute of limitations for the claims of hundreds of thousands of VW diesel car owners.

As a matter of fact, the new law allows people to be heard in court, who might otherwise have been afraid to do so due to financial concerns. Nevertheless, some lawyers are advising VW diesel owners to withdraw from the lawsuit and take individual action against the carmaker.

Law firms, including Dr Hoffman and Partners in Nuremberg, warned this summer that the Braunschweig court will only determine whether Volkswagen owes consumers damages, in principle. This was, however "of little use to the individual plaintiff," the lawyers said in a statement.

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