Business & Real Estate

Sacramento-area Volkswagen owners seek class-action status over ‘defeat device’

A lawsuit filed Friday in Sacramento seeks court certification as a class action on behalf of “tens of thousands” of Californians who purchased or leased one or more of the diesel VWs secretly equipped by the manufacturer with a device that defeated emissions tests by federal and state regulators. Model years 2009 to 2015 are targeted in the complaint.
A lawsuit filed Friday in Sacramento seeks court certification as a class action on behalf of “tens of thousands” of Californians who purchased or leased one or more of the diesel VWs secretly equipped by the manufacturer with a device that defeated emissions tests by federal and state regulators. Model years 2009 to 2015 are targeted in the complaint. AP

A lawsuit filed late Friday in Sacramento federal court has joined the growing number of legal actions over the emissions scandal that has engulfed German carmaker Volkswagen.

The lawsuit seeks court certification as a class action on behalf of “tens of thousands” of Californians who purchased or leased one or more of the diesel VWs secretly equipped by the manufacturer with a device that defeated emissions tests by federal and state regulators. Model years 2009 to 2015 are targeted in the complaint.

The lawsuit was filed by the Poswall, White & Brelsford law firm on behalf of eight VW owners in the Sacramento region who seek to be representative plaintiffs. It accuses Volkswagen Group of America Inc. of fraud, breach of warranty, unjust enrichment and negligent misrepresentation.

Not only has every class member been cheated out of the high-gas-mileage, low-emissions performance they thought they were getting, the vehicles now have a substantially lower resale value and downgraded appeal, the lawsuit claims. The lawsuit seeks an unspecified amount of monetary damages.

Class-action lawsuits against Volkswagen have been piling up around the country in the past week, from Portland, Ore., to Fort Myers, Fla. The emissions fraud charges were made public Sept. 18.

A husband and wife who teach at Stanford University sued the carmaker Friday in U.S. District Court in San Francisco over their 2013 VW Passat, four days after a separate pair of Bay Area residents filed a similar case. A Los Angeles resident has sued over his 2010 Audi, which is manufactured by Volkswagen. Similar lawsuits have been filed in Iowa, Missouri, Tennessee, Maine and Vermont.

Nearly 500,000 U.S. vehicles and 11 million cars worldwide could be affected, according to federal regulators. The Sacramento complaint said 77,000 of those vehicles were sold in California.

Irvine-based Kelley Blue Book, citing IHS Polk data on new vehicle registrations, said 65,931 of the cited 2009-15 VW/Audi diesel models were purchased in California.

Volkswagen has admitted that it intentionally installed software programmed to switch engines to a cleaner mode during emissions testing. After testing, the software would switch off, enabling cars to maintain higher fuel efficiency but also allowing them to emit as much as 40 times the legal pollution limit. Volkswagen’s U.S. headquarters in Herndon, Va., and its regional office in Woodland Hills were closed Saturday and no one could be reached for comment on the Sacramento lawsuit.

“Put simply,” the complaint alleges, “(Volkswagen’s) defeat device results in cars that meet emissions standards in the laboratory or testing station, but during everyday operation the device is programmed in such a manner that (a car) emits nitrogen oxides (NOx) at up to 40 times the standard permitted by U.S. health regulations.”

Nitrogen oxides contribute to the creation of ozone and smog and are linked to respiratory diseases including asthma, bronchitis and emphysema.

The company’s manipulation of the emissions systems came to light Sept. 18, when the Obama administration directed Volkswagen to recall all diesel-powered vehicles in which it had “illegally placed software in an effort to bypass requisite standards for reducing smog.”

The California Air Resources Board and the Environmental Protection Agency were first alerted that something was amiss in May 2014, when researchers at the University of West Virginia published a study that found significantly higher in-use emissions from two of VW’s light-duty diesel vehicles.

The company attributed the study’s findings to technical issues or extraordinary driving conditions, but data from tests by the CARB that continued for more than a year did not match with the company’s suggested reasons, and it became clear that certificates of conformity for the 2016 diesels would not be forthcoming from regulatory agencies until VW could explain the anomalous emissions.

It was then that the company admitted it had designed and installed a defeat device in the form of a sophisticated algorithm that detects when a vehicle is undergoing testing. Volkswagen is one of the world’s largest producers of passenger cars and Europe’s largest automaker.

Denny Walsh: 916-321-1189

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