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New German law leads to first class action suit against VW for emissions scandal

By Nicholas Sakelaris
New German law leads to first class action suit against VW for emissions scandal
A consumer group filed a class action lawsuit Thursday against Volkswagen over its emissions scandal. File Photo by Brian Kersey/UPI | License Photo

Nov. 1 (UPI) -- Consumer advocates filed a class action lawsuit Thursday against Volkwagen over its emissions scandal, almost immediately after a new law took effect that permits such legal action.

Millions of Volkswagen owners could join the suit, which is the first of its kind in Germany's history.

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The consumer group, VZBV, accuses the automaker of deliberately harming clients with software that makes the cars appear more environmentally friendly than they truly were.

"Volkswagen will remember this day as the moment the kid gloves of the politicians were replaced by the boxing gloves of consumer advocates," said VZBV head Klaus Mueller.

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Investigations have determined Volkswagen installed "defeat devices" on certain diesel-powered vehicles. The equipment would cut emissions to legal levels during inspection, and then allow the engine to produce illegal levels once the car was back on the road.

The group seeks a judgement on whether Volkswagen should pay damages to owners. A new German law took effect Thursday that makes the lawsuit possible.

"The damage for every consumer can be several thousand euros and there is no sign of the car industry to compensate for the damage they have caused," VZBV spokeswoman Sarah Hoare told BBC News.

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The suit will start small but could benefit 2 million owners who've been frustrated by the emissions cheating scandal that caused resale values to plummet. Some cities banned the affected vehicles on environmental grounds. Some owners are also angry at politicians in Berlin who they say have been slow to react.

"They have played us for fools. I wish they had been more honest from the start," said owner Christian Saefken.

Plaintiffs attorney Tobias Ulbrich said they were against a deadline to file the suit because the scandal was first reported three years ago. The law permitting the suit was supported by the Social Democratic Party as a condition of joining a coalition with Chancellor Angela Merkel's conservative Christian Democratic Union.

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"For a lot of families this is a big problem -- even after returning the [affected diesel] car, they have to pay the financing on the old car, and then, if they want to get a new car, they have to pay the new financing as well," Ulbrich said.

Saefken and other owners could join the suit if judges determine it can go forward. It would be open to anyone who bought a Volkswagen with a diesel EA 189 engine manufactured after November 2008. The suit lets plaintiffs bundle the complaints, saving time.

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Judges will decide whether the automaker should compensate drivers. It would then be up to individual owners to seek actual damages.

The so-called "dieselgate" scandal has already led to numerous lawsuits in Australia and Britain.

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