VW Used Defeat Devices in Diesel Engines, UK High Court Rules

The VW logo seen on a car outside of the company's Wolfsburg, Germany, headquarters.
(Krisztian Bocsi/Bloomberg News)

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A court in the United Kingdom ruled that Volkswagen AG used a so-called defeat device to help its diesel vehicles beat emissions tests, a decision that allows 91,000 customers to proceed with a class action against the carmaker.

The case, one of the biggest class-action suits filed in the U.K., adds to the legal woes for VW, now in the fifth year of its struggle with the diesel scandal. The ruling by Judge David Waksman on April 6 is an interim finding that also said the court was bound by a decision by Germany’s transport authority.

VW is facing a wave of litigation by drivers who want their money back for the loss in value of their diesel cars because of the software manipulation exposed by U.S. regulators in September 2015. The scandal has cost the world’s largest automaker about 30 billion euros ($32.6 billion) so far and legal proceedings from disgruntled investors and customers are poised to drag on for years.

“Today’s ruling is hugely significant for our clients who have been battling for four years to hold Volkswagen to account,” said Bozena Michalowska Howells, a lawyer at Leigh Day who represents the owners. “In reaching his decision, the judge rejected virtually all of Volkswagen’s arguments and found that the vehicles were fitted with illegal defeat devices.”

While the plaintiff lawyers say the ruling means VW “is liable to the group claimants,” the carmaker said the decision doesn’t determine liability. The court still has to rule on important issues at the heart of the case, the carmaker said.

Volkswagen remains confident that it won’t be found liable and that claimants didn’t suffer any loss, VW spokesman Christopher Hauss said.

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