Since 5th April an action brought by a car buyer against the car manufacturer Volkswagen was heard before the highest German court, the Federal Supreme Court in Karlsruhe. The proceedings concerned possible claims for damages by the plaintiff against VW. The plaintiff had purchased a used diesel vehicle of the manufacturer from a dealer in early 2014. Since the VW diesel vehicle is equipped with a cut-off device, the plaintiff wants to return the used car and get back the full purchase price of approximately 31,500 euros. Specifically, the question is whether the purchase of cars with the EA189 diesel engine could already be considered a concrete damage to customers. The Federal Supreme Court has now ruled and described VW's actions as deliberately immoral. The presiding judge, Stephan Seiters, justified the decision by stating that the "switch-off device had been installed in the engine control system over many years, not only in the defendant's company itself, but also in several subsidiaries in various vehicle models [...] to influence the exhaust gas recirculation, whereby if the software used had been discovered, operation could have been restricted or prohibited.” The aim was to "increase their profit" and the plaintiff was thereby deliberately harmed. The plaintiffs can now in principle demand a refund of the purchase price. However, they must make the vehicle available to VW and accept use-related deductions.
With its ruling, the Federal Supreme Court has now clarified the legal position of the car owners for the first time and set a precedent for the lower courts, which are dealing with some 60,000 pending cases. However, it remains to be seen whether a wave of lawsuits will follow.
A ruling in the emissions scandal is also expected from the European Court of Justice in the coming months. Already at the end of April, Advocate General Eleanor Sharpston published her opinion. In her opinion, a device that upwardly regulates the operation of the exhaust gas purification system of vehicles with diesel engines during the registration test of these vehicles is a "shut-off device" prohibited under EU law. In most cases, the rulings of the ECJ follow the opinions.
VW is also threatened with further proceedings and fines in the USA. Although settlements have already been reached and VW has been held accountable for violations of the Clean Air Act, an appeal court has now ruled that regional authorities can impose further sanctions. It is to be expected that VW will not accept this and will take legal action against the ruling.