Over 330,000 compensation claims were filed against Mercedes-Benz by drivers who allege the company unlawfully fitted “defeat devices” on diesel vehicles to cheat emissions tests. It is alleged that the German manufacturer “deliberately misled” customers by concealing the banned technology from customers.
At a London hearing, attorneys representing consumers and businesses sought to tie their claims for damages against Mercedes, which denied using “defeat devices.” The latest legal development in the wake of the “dieselgate” emissions scandal brings what lawyers claim is the largest consumer group case to the English courts.
Following the emissions testing revelations around seven years ago, Volkswagen settled a group claim for compensation by paying £193 million to more than 90,000 vehicle owners.
Mercedes and the legal teams of motorists agreed the numerous cases against the manufacturer and its authorized dealers needed to be managed through a group litigation order. According to Oliver Campbell KC, who represents car owners, around 336,000 claims have been brought by multiple firms. He suggested Leigh Day and Pogust Goodhead should be able to act as lead solicitors.
The “core allegation” against Mercedes was that the company manufactured and sold vehicles that had defeat devices in violation of emission regulations, for which it had “no tenable defense”. According to the barrister who presented written arguments, the affected vehicles might pass regulatory tests, but their emissions systems would be turned off in “normal” conditions.
Mercedes allegedly knew, during regular operation, that the defeat devices they used resulted in much higher levels of NOx than were permitted under EU rules, according to Mr. Campbell. Mercedes is accused of knowing the machines were illegal and could not be justified by protecting engine components.
The lawyer said there were accusations of deceit against Mercedes and allegations that it had breached emissions regulations and competition laws relating to AdBlue’s use. Mercedes is accused of participating in an unlawful cartel involving the use of AdBlue technology, as well as allegations of deceit.
In written submissions, Mercedes’ lawyer Helen Davies KC said the company denied entirely it was responsible for defeat devices in its vehicles. She claimed the cases against it differed from the Volkswagen litigation in crucial ways, and significant care had to be taken when referencing them. She clarified that emissions control is complex and that the very wide range of vehicles involved in the claims differs in hardware, software, and calibration. She said she would prove that its systems had not been reduced in effectiveness.
Judge Barbara Fontaine concluded the group litigation hearing, ruling on certain issues still pending prior to the approval of the group litigation order.
The announcement of the “dieselgate” scandal led to a flurry of litigation around the world after Volkswagen Group announced 11 million vehicles worldwide were affected. The High Court initially had to decide whether the software installed in the VW diesel cars was in violation of EU regulations for “defeat devices”. Tens of thousands of owners took legal action in England and Wales. As a result of a ruling handed down by Mr. Justice Waksman in April 2020, it was judged that the software function in question is indeed a defeat device. This resulted in eligible VW diesel owners receiving over £2,100 on average.
Volkswagen’s diesel vehicles are fitted with unlawful “defeat devices” that are designed to “save lives”, according to the lawyers representing car owners. Volkswagen refused to admit liability, causation, or loss in the multimillion-pound out-of-court settlement that followed.
Similar claims have started against other car manufacturers. Most notably drivers have also started registering for Vauxhall and BMW diesel claims.