By Pamela C. Maloney, J.D.
Maryland Attorney General Brian E. Frosh, New York Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman, and Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey announced the filing of civil lawsuits against Volkswagen AG and its affiliates, Audi AG and Porsche AG, as well as their American subsidiaries, for the automakers’ sale of diesel automobiles that were fitted with allegedly illegal "defeat devices," which concealed the actual level of harmful emissions given off by these vehicles. The complaint also alleges that the automakers attempted to cover up their behavior. These illegal devices were installed in over 25,000 vehicles in New York; 15,000 vehicles in Massachusetts; and 12,935 vehicles in Maryland (Maryland Attorney General News Release, July 19, 2016).
These lawsuits follow a nine-month-long investigation by a multistate coalition of over 40 states and other jurisdictions, led by New York, Massachusetts, and four other states. New York State’s Department of Environmental Conservation, Massachusetts’s Department of Environmental Protection, and Maryland’s Department of the Environment provided important assistance with the investigation. The lawsuits also come on the heels of partial settlements by the automakers of claims for consumer relief and consumer deception penalties, as well as the automakers’ agreement to establish a fund to mitigate the environmental damage caused by their admitted misconduct. The earlier settlements did not resolve any of the claims for civil penalties that New York, Massachusetts, Maryland, and other states, as well as the EPA, may bring for the companies’ flagrant violations of state and federal environmental laws and regulations, nor did the settlements cover all of the vehicles equipped with emission control defeat devices.
The complaints allege, in part, that:
- Starting in 2008, Volkswagen and Audi, and later Porsche, began installing these defeat devices in several generations of US-market Volkswagen and Audi diesel engines that equipped over a dozen models, including flagship Audi luxury sedans and high-performance Porsche SUVs, with sales eventually totaling over 25,000 vehicles in New York State, 15,000 in Massachusetts, and 12,935 in Maryland before being pulled from sale last year.
- The defeat devices took the form of computer software designed to ensure that a vehicle's emissions system performed properly only during emissions testing. On the road, the defeat device switched off or scaled back the vehicles’ emissions systems, with the result that the cars and SUVs emitted nitrogen oxide (NOx) gases – a harmful pollutant linked to numerous respiratory diseases – far above allowable limits, indeed up to 40 times those limits
- Volkswagen, Audi, and Porsche resorted to the illegal defeat devices to enable them to equip their cars with shoddy emissions systems that in many cases would have broken down, without the defeat devices, in less than 50,000 miles, contrary to the durability assurances the automakers had falsely given to regulators.
- As a result of these actions, consumers in New York, Massachusetts, Maryland, and around the country did not receive what they were sold—a "clean" "green" diesel car that the Volkswagen companies aggressively touted. Indeed, Volkswagen, Audi, and Porsche expressly and repeatedly promised consumers that they could have the best of all worlds by purchasing a car or SUV with both outstanding power and excellent environmental performance—and charged high mark-ups on the bases of these claims—claims which Audi and Volkswagen knew were blatantly false.
The complaints further allege that after the EPA and CARB contacted Volkswagen and Audi about the discrepancies revealed by a West Virginia University study—which the companies fully knew were caused by their defeat devices—Audi and Volkswagen:
- Tried to cover up the problem through sham recalls that they knew would not meet the required standards;
- Repeatedly failed to disclose to regulators the true reason – the defeat devices – for the discrepancies; and
- Only confessed to the defeat devices when they knew the regulators had them pinned to the facts.
The lawsuits further allege this cover-up was orchestrated and approved at the highest levels of the company, up to and including the former CEO, Martin Winterkorn, and that the Attorneys General investigation found evidence that the misconduct of Volkswagen and its Audi and Porsche subsidiaries in the production and sale of these automobiles has few parallels in corporate history.
Companies: Volkswagen AG; Audi AG; Porsche AG
MainStory: TopStory MotorVehiclesNews MotorEquipmentNews
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