The law firms running a huge group action against Volkswagen over the car emissions scandal have joined forces with a Dutch organisation that yesterday launched proceedings against VW in the Netherlands, as part of efforts by claimant firms across Europe to co-ordinate their actions.
London firm Harcus Sinclair and national giant Slater & Gordon are running the UK case, which currently numbers 41,000 car owners in the group. It is backed by third-party litigation funder Therium Capital Management.
The pair are collaborating with Stichting Volkswagen Car Claim (known as ‘The Foundation’), made up of Benelux law firm AKD, US practice Labaton Sucharow and German firm Breiteneder.
They have begun action against VW, software supplier Bosch and Dutch local traders on behalf of approximately 180,000 Dutch car owners.
The Volkswagen Group – which includes Volkswagen, Audi, SEAT and Škoda – manufactured and sold around 11 million vehicles worldwide, including 1.2m in the UK alone, that fall into the action.
The key allegation is that the affected cars should not have been certified as fit for sale because they allegedly produced higher levels of NOx emissions than the rules allowed.
It is also alleged that the affected vehicles only passed official emissions tests because their engines were fitted with a ‘defeat device’ which reduced NOx emissions under test conditions. NOx is a toxic combination of pollutants nitrogen oxide and nitrogen dioxide.
Damon Parker, head of litigation at Harcus Sinclair, told Litigation Futures that VW had refused to deal with all the claims in a single EU jurisdiction, forcing claimants to go through their national courts instead.
The aim of working with other groups around Europe was to share expertise, knowledge and resources so far as possible to mitigate the extra cost this approach entailed.
He described it as the same case across Europe, “but with different accents” – meaning there were local variations on procedure, the exact nature of the law being tested, and so on. For example, he said part of the UK claim was in deceit, which is treated differently in civil law jurisdictions.
The UK claim is still in its early stages and a group litigation order has yet to be approved. The Dutch action is on an opt-out basis, but those are only available in the UK at the moment for competition actions.
Guido van Woerkom, director of The Foundation, said: “We are delighted to be teaming up with Harcus Sinclair, who have done an excellent job in paving the way for car owners to seek redress from VW through the courts.
“Since its establishment in 2015, The Foundation has tried to reach a reasonable settlement with Volkswagen AG on behalf of aggrieved car owners, so far without any success.
“[Our board] now sees no other solution than to mobilize all affected car owners to force Volkswagen, Bosch and car traders to accept their responsibility and offer a reasonable compensation.
“The Foundation will also continue to seek collaboration with other European stakeholder groups to optimise our impact on a pan-European scale.”
The Foundation is also actively cooperating with those representing consumers in Austria, Germany and Switzerland, and in talks with firms in Spain, France, Italy, Poland, Czech Republic and Scandinavia “to expand the wave of coordinated litigation all over Europe in order to ensure that no aggrieved car owner will lose its rights and will be compensated similarly”.