German court opens proceedings in Volkswagen diesel emissions lawsuit

30 September 2019, 15:38

The lawsuit against Volkswagen has been brought in a German court
The lawsuit against Volkswagen has been brought in a German court. Picture: PA

By Megan White

A court has opened a class action suit against Volkswagen in which almost half-a-million customers aim to establish the right to compensation over the diesel emissions scandal.

The case, brought by the Federation of German Consumer Organisations in Germany, was prompted by the scandal over Volkswagen's use of software to turn emissions controls off when vehicles were not being tested, which was discovered in 2015.

It uses new rules enacted last year which could enable 470,000 car owners to claim compensation in separate proceedings.

The Braunschweig state court declared the suit admissible as proceedings opened, news agency dpa reported, but suggested that the plaintiffs have plenty of work to do to prove their case.

The proceedings in Braunschweig, which encompass cars made by the Volkswagen, Audi, Seat and Skoda brands fitted with EA 189 diesel engines that were bought after November 1 2008 and later affected by a recall, are meant to establish only whether the company acted illegally.

Presiding Judge Michael Neef suggested that the two sides could consider a settlement, saying it is “very difficult, but possible,” while Volkswagen has said it is hard to imagine in this case.

Mr Neef said his court would have to consider whether vehicle owners suffered damage from the emissions-cheating software itself or from bans subsequently imposed on driving older diesel cars in some areas.

The cars continued in most cases to be used, he noted.

In a separate case, prosecutors last week announced charges of market manipulation against Volkswagen chief executive Herbert Diess and board chairman Hans Dieter Poetsch, as well as former chief executive Martin Winterkorn, arguing that they deliberately informed markets too late about the huge costs to the company that would result from the scandal.

Volkswagen rejects the allegations and is backing Mr Diess and Mr Poetsch.