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Volkswagen loses landmark civil case in emissions scandal

Volkswagen has already paid billions to customers in the United States, Australia and Canada. File Photo by Clemens Bilan/EPA-EFE
Volkswagen has already paid billions to customers in the United States, Australia and Canada. File Photo by Clemens Bilan/EPA-EFE

May 26 (UPI) -- Germany's highest civil court has ruled that Volkswagen must buy back vehicles that were fitted with illegal emissions software in a landmark decision in the "Dieselgate" scandal.

The ruling Monday by Berlin's Federal Court of Justice could force Volkswagen to pay some 60,000 German owners as much as $31,000 for each affected vehicle.

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The court ruled that the automaker must compensate a man who bought a Volkswagen minivan that had been outfitted with a "defeat device" intended to sidestep emissions requirements. The company said it will now offer owners a one-time payment for affected vehicles.

"This ruling provides clarity as to how the court assesses essential questions in German diesel proceedings," Volkswagen said in a statement.

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"Volkswagen is now seeking to bring these proceedings to a prompt conclusion in agreement with the plaintiffs. We will therefore approach the plaintiffs with the adequate settlement proposals."

Volkswagen was found in 2015 to have installed "defeat device" software on more than 10 million diesel-powered vehicles that lowered emissions readings during tests. The automaker has since paid out billions as a result of the scandal.

"The behavior of the defendants is to be deemed unethical," presiding judge Stephan Seiters wrote in the court's decision.

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The ruling could lead to more German VW owners receiving compensation.

"The ruling means legal certainty for millions of consumers in Germany and shows once again that even a large corporation is not above the law," plaintiffs attorney Claus Goldenstein said. "Today we have made history."

Volkswagen has already paid billions to customers in the United States, Australia and Canada. CEO Herbert Diess and board Chairman Hans Dieter Poetsch agreed to out-of-court settlements worth almost $10 million after they were charged by German prosecutors.

Australia's federal court ordered Volkswagen in December to pay an $86 million fine for falsifying emissions results due to the devices.

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