In one of the first group litigation orders in British history more than 25,000 people have launched a legal action against car giant Volkswagen following its emissions scandal.
In 2015, VW was exposed as using ’defeat devices’ to fool emissions tests and produce inaccurate fuel efficiency figures.
Volkswagen has since admitted equipping diesel cars with sophisticated software that turned on emissions controls when engines were being tested and then turned them off during normal driving – leading to improved engine performance but causing nitrogen oxide emissions at up to 40 times above the legal limit.
This has led to a fraud investigation by prosecutors in Germany of former Volkswagen chief executive Martin Winterkorn.
The former leader of VW resigned days after it was revealed that VW’s had created and concealed ‘cheat devices’ in 11 million vehicles, in particular it included VW, Audi, SEAT and Skoda vehicles with 1.2, 1.6 and 2.0 EA 189 diesel engines manufactured between 2009 and 2015.
Winterkorn is among a number of VW top international leaders who are being investigated for the scandal, some of whom have already been charged and made to pay large fines.
In the US, more than 500,000 owners took the manufacturer to court and saw a settlement of £15 billion, which those who have launched a case in the British High Court hope to emulate.
It is understood that UK owners are seeking £3,000 compensation per car for Volkswagen, Audi, SEAT and Skoda vehicles in the UK.
The scandal is believed to have affected around 1.2 million cars in the UK, so the current group litigation order – a British version of a US style ‘class action’ – is relatively small in comparison to the number of owners affected.
The key allegation being put to the High Court is that the affected cars should not have been certified as fit for sale because it is alleged that they produced higher levels of nitrous oxide than legally permissible.
The UK group litigation order centres on the fact that drivers paid a premium price for what they thought were clean diesel cars, but instead were deceived into buying high polluting vehicles.
The outcome of the case is expected later in the year and it is not yet clear whether any other customers may launch their own action against the manufacturer.