A wave of lawsuits is piling up in Germany as car owners sue Volkswagen, the fallen industrial icon, for systematically manipulating its emissions values.
And the carmaker is losing those cases as judges roundly condemn VW’s behavior.
Criticism of VW’s “unethical and immoral behavior” is a change of tune for the corporate, legal and government establishment that treated VW, one of Germany’s most important companies, with kid gloves compared to the response in the US.
For a long time, that approach enabled VW to avoid compensating car owners in Europe, arguing that software updates were sufficient and no further action was needed.
Now, in Germany, the gloves are off, according to hundreds of court verdicts, though courts here lack US-style class-action lawsuits and billion-dollar settlements. One judge in Düsseldorf wrote: “Seeking profit at the cost of deliberately deceiving consumers and authorities is to be seen as reprehensible.” A judge in Stuttgart said VW had violated “the sense of decency of all who support fairness and justice.” The regional court in Arnsberg ruled last June that VW had “created a system to deliberately conceal its actions from regulatory authorities and consumers.”
In most of those cases, judges found that VW committed fraud, which is exactly the charge the carmaker pleaded guilty to in the US in 2016. Scores of German judges ruled that the carmaker cheated its clients and they openly challenged VW’s claim that the fraud took place without the knowledge of top management.