Several potential class-action lawsuits have been filed in Michigan against Volkswagen over the company’s diesel emissions scandal, as US regulators ratcheted up questioning of the auto giant.
The lengthy complaints filed in federal court in Detroit say Volkswagen deceived federal and state emissions standards by installing a so-called “defeat device” in 482,000 Audi and Volkswagen vehicles sold in the US since 2009. Volkswagen already faces billions of dollars of fines, a criminal investigation and several state investigations as part of the worldwide cheating scandal, which have consumed the auto maker in recent weeks.
The lawsuits, almost identical in language, say Volkswagen touted vehicles with “extremely high fuel mileage coupled with low emissions” but the equipped defeat devices allowed them to cheat emissions test.
“Put simply, [Volkswagen] lied and continued to lie over a period of years,” the complaint stated.
Attorneys with the Seattle-based Keller Rohrback LLP, which filed the complaints on Tuesday and Wednesday, told the Guardian additional lawsuits would be forthcoming, after VW executives testified before Congress earlier this month. The fresh round of complaints follows another batch the firm filed in September.
Gretchen Freeman Cappio, one of the attorneys on the case, said the firm has been “utterly slammed” with calls and emails from consumers. Keller Rohrback now represents plaintiffs from nearly every state in the US, she said.
Though the complaints are nearly identical, Freeman Cappio said consumer laws vary slightly state to state, therefore spurring the multiple lawsuits.
“So because of that, you’ll see that consumers from all different states across the country file lawsuits alleging similar facts,” she told the Guardian.
VW has admitted that 11m vehicles worldwide were fitted with a defeat device, which is a line of software code hidden within the cars’ systems that knew when an emissions test was taken place.
A spokeswoman for the company said in a statement that it cannot comment directly on the specific class-action lawsuits.
“Volkswagen is fully cooperating with all investigations regarding the emissions compliance issue,” spokeswoman Jeannine Ginivan said.
The lawsuits were filed in Detroit, as the investigations by the US Justice Department and FBI are taking place across the region, where the Environmental Protection Agency’s National Vehicle & Fuel Emissions Laboratory is located. Volkswagen has an office with an estimated 1,100 employees in Auburn Hills, Michigan – about 30 minutes from Detroit.
Freeman Cappio pointed to testimony from Michael Horn, Volkswagen Group of America CEO, before a US House panel on 8 October, when he said its Auburn Hills office is “directly linked to the German research and development department”.
“They work together. They get all the information, all the results, testing things, technical specifications and then they file the applications for conformity,” Horn said. He added that the office interacted “directly on a working level, on a management level, on a daily basis with the EPA and [the California Air Resources Board].”
VW’s ties with Michigan and the ongoing scandal are readily apparent, Freeman Cappio said.
“The connections between the allegations in our lawsuit about defeat device vehicles manufactured by Volkswagen and Michigan could not be stronger,” she said.
Beside Volkswagen Group of America, Audi AG and Audi of America are named as defendants in the suits.
The plaintiffs claim VW committed fraud by concealment, breached contracts through the sale of the defeat device vehicles, breached warranties, and unjustly enriched itself. It also asserts the company’s conduct meets the threshold of a racketeering influenced and corrupt organization, or Rico, claim.
The lawsuit asks for injunctive relief through a recall or free vehicle replacement, as well as unspecified damages.
This article was written by Ryan Felton in Detroit, for theguardian.com on Thursday 15th October 2015 23.54 Europe/Londonguardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010