Andreas Tilp is confident as he leaves the courtroom in Braunschweig. Television teams film the boxes of files he brings with him every day and he’s showered with questions about his lawsuit against Volkswagen, the world’s biggest carmaker, on behalf of VW shareholders.
Mr. Tilp was selected to lead a model case against VW that could lead to damages for thousands of investors — Germany doesn’t have traditional class-action suits but a law known as the KapMuG was passed in 2004 to allow similar benefits. Plaintiffs sign up to a model case that resolves the basic questions. That resolution can then be applied to similar cases that have affected tens, hundreds or even thousands of potential plaintiffs.
And Mr. Tilp was chosen to lead the charge on behalf of VW investors who say the Wolfsburg-based company misled them about its knowledge of the Dieselgate scandal. Monday is likely to be the last day in 2018 that the Braunschweig Higher Regional Court hears arguments this year but Mr. Tilp already says he has seldom faced such a sympathetic court. Officially he and five colleagues are representing German fund manager Deka Investment.
A sympathetic judge
“We are confident that there will be money for investors,” the 55-year-old attorney says in a thick Swabian accent. Judge Christian Jäde already indicated that the model case could affect anyone who bought VW shares after July 2012. Mr. Tilp says he can accept the ruling, though he feels it should go back to 2008 — the first time VW manipulated diesel exhaust systems to deceive regulators.
About two-thirds of the €10 billion ($11.7 billion) in losses happened after the date set by the judge, making it acceptable. VW also must prove that former CEO Martin Winterkorn and others involved didn’t know about the manipulations, instead of having plaintiffs prove the executives did.
Mr. Tilp is well-known in German legal circles. He played a role in the creation of the KapMuG and even helped make crucial tweaks. He’s testified at parliamentary hearings and lectures at a German law school. “Mr. Tilp is a trendsetter with ingenious moves,” says Berlin rival Wolfgang Schirp, who believes collective legal protections still need improvement in Europe’s biggest economy.
Litigious law student
Mr. Tilp has already argued on behalf of plaintiffs using model cases — in 2007 against Deutsche Telekom, whose disastrous IPO pushed politicians to pass the law in the first place. He won €100 million on behalf of Telekom shareholders and reeled in another €320 million for investors who sought recompense from Hypo Real Estate for balance sheet shenanigans.
His first high-profile success came when he was still a student and lost 400,000 deutsche mark to speculation. He successfully sued his bank, giving him a taste for taking on bigger opponents.
But none of the plaintiffs in the VW case have yet to see any money. Mr. Tilp alone represents clients seeking €5.3 billion and as many as 3,500 investors could benefit from his model trial.
Mr. Tilp’s law firm will likely receive several million from the case.
According to Mr. Tilp, his law firm and nearby house in the southern village of Kirchentellinsfurt, keep him grounded. He studied law in the neighboring Tübingen and first met his wife when he was 15.
“The best ideas sometimes come when you just look into the trees at home,” he says.
Gertrud Hussla covers finance and pension planning for Handelsblatt in the Düsseldorf bureau. Laura de la Motte covers banks and finance for Handelsblatt in Frankfurt. To contact the authors:firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com