West Virginia Sues Volkswagen Over Emissions Scandal

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By Patrick Ambrosio

Oct. 5 — The West Virginia Attorney General's Office filed a lawsuit against Volkswagen of America Inc. over alleged violations of state consumer protection law related to the sale of diesel-engine vehicles outfitted with defeat devices (State v. Volkswagen of Am. Inc., W.Va. Cty. Ct., No. 15-c-1833, 10/2/15).

The complaint, filed Oct. 2, asked the Kanawha County Circuit Court to require Volkswagen to pay at least $43 million in civil penalties and restitution over the sale of its “clean diesel” vehicles, which the company has admitted included software that allowed the vehicles to pass emissions tests despite emitting as much as 40 times more pollution than allowed under actual driving conditions. The affected vehicles include several model years of the Volkswagen Jetta, Beetle, Golf and Passat models, as well as the Audi A3.

The attorney general's office said in an Oct. 5 statement that it filed the complaint because Volkswagen marketed those vehicles as “clean diesel” despite knowingly engineering the vehicles to cheat on emissions tests. The complaint identified several alleged violations of the West Virginia Consumer Credit and Protection Act.

“West Virginia consumers responded to Volkswagen’s advertising by purchasing TDI [turbo-charged direct injection] clean diesel models, expecting that their vehicles would be environmentally friendly, fuel efficient and high performance as advertised,” West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey said in a statement.

Morrisey said that Volkswagen will not be able to bring the affected vehicles into compliance with federal emissions standards without “substantially degrading their performance and fuel efficiency.”

The West Virginia lawsuit followed a Sept. 28 lawsuit brought by Harris County, Texas, which asked a district court to require Volkswagen to pay $100 million related to worsened pollution (Harris Cnty. v. Volkswagen Grp. of Am., Tex. Distr. Ct., No. 2015-57864, 9/28/15; 189 DEN A-28, 9/30/15)See previous story, 09/30/15)46 ER 2911, 10/2/15).

Volkswagen also faces numerous consumer lawsuits in the U.S. and Europe, possible criminal charges pending an investigation by the U.S. Justice Department and a civil penalty from the Environmental Protection Agency that is expected to be significant (191 DEN A-5, 10/2/15)(See previous story, 10/02/15)(46 ER 2902, 10/2/15).

Volkswagen does not comment on litigation that is in progress.

Penalties, Restitution Sought

West Virginia's Department of Motor Vehicles found 2,684 registered vehicles that include the TDI engines affected by the Volkswagen scandal. It is likely that number will rise during the discovery phase of the litigation, the attorney general's office said.

The complaint requested that the court assess a civil penalty of $5,000 per violation against Volkswagen, require the company to refund all “excess charges” to consumers who purchased the vehicles and assess an additional civil penalty that is 10 times greater than the amount of excess charges. The alleged excess charges are related to Volkswagen charging consumers more than was justified for the diesel vehicles due to deceptive advertising.

Additionally, West Virginia asked the court to require Volkswagen to pay appropriate restitution to consumers, including a refund of the premium that consumers paid for the vehicles above the price of comparable gasoline engine cars. That premium was anywhere between $1,000 and $6,855 per vehicle, depending on the make and optional add-ons.

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