Business Law & Compliance

Volkswagen could face one of the biggest legal claims in UK history, say lawyers

3 min read

24 September 2015

Law firm Leigh Day revealed it was investigating whether Volkswagen's (VW) admission that some of its cars cheated clean air tests in the US also applied to tests in the UK. If proven true, then it expects to soon handle one of the largest group claims in UK legal history.

Some 11 million vehicles worldwide are believed to have been fitted with software to ensure they would pass clean air tests to meet environmental standards, Leigh Day claimed.

It said: “The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in the US said cars had been fitted with sophisticated software to switch engines to a cleaner mode when they were undergoing official emissions testing. This is a type of software known as a ‘defeat device’. Once on the road, the cars produced nitrogen oxide pollutants at up to 40 times the legal standard.”

In a statement, the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT) implied that it would be harder to cheat a standard emissions test in Europe. It claimed that all cars needed to complete a standard emissions test, which, unlike in the US, is independently witnessed by a government-appointed independent agency.

However, Greg Archer, the former managing director of UK’s Low Carbon Vehicle Partnership and non-executive director for the government’s Renewable Fuels Agency, has claimed that the EU testing system is more open to abuse because the tests are conducted before the car goes into mass production and by companies that have been paid by the car makers.

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Lawyers at Leigh Day are calling for full disclosure of emissions testing for Volkswagen cars in Europe.

Bozena Michalowska-Howells, from the consumer law and product safety group at Leigh Day, said: “We are aware of legal cases being brought against Volkswagen in the US, but this does not mean that UK cases will automatically follow.

“The key issue in this country is whether or not these devices were able to bypass the European emissions tests. If it is shown that this piece of software defeated the European testing then Volkswagen would be in a very similar position as it is in the US, and may well then have to call in cars with all the resulting costs involved.

“This could well lead to one of the largest group claims ever in this country for the way in which consumers may have been misled in relation to their vehicle.”

VW’s CEO, Martin Winterkorn said he was ”endlessly sorry” over the scandal, which prompted demands for him to resign.