Justice Department Lawsuit against Volkswagen May Be Precursor to Settlement, Legal Experts Say

by Michael Heygood

Legal experts say that the U.S. Department of Justice lawsuit against Volkswagen over the “Dieselgate” scandal could be the precursor to a sweeping settlement to resolve civil and criminal claims against the company. The Justice Department filed a lawsuit against Volkswagen in January 2016 over violations of the Clean Air Act in connection with the company’s emissions cheating on hundreds of thousands of VW and Audi diesel models sold in the U.S.

Experts who reviewed the Justice Department lawsuit against VW say that the civil claims against the company in connection with the emissions cheating scandal may be just the first step in the federal government’s actions against the German automaker. Many attorneys expect the Justice Department to file criminal charges against Volkswagen—and also, potentially, its executives—in connection with the company’s emissions cheating.

The lawsuit against Volkswagen accuses VW of installing a “defeat device” on at least 580,000 VW and Audi diesel models sold in the U.S. This defeat device made the diesel models appear to emit significantly lower levels of greenhouse gas pollution than they actually did, enabling them to pass state inspection. After researchers with the EPA confronted VW about the discrepancy between the emissions levels of its diesel vehicles in the laboratory versus on the road, the company was forced to admit that it had lied about the emissions levels on 11 million VW, Audi, and Porsche diesel models sold worldwide.

Lawyers who have commented on the Justice Department’s VW litigation say that given the company’s admission of wrongdoing in the Dieselgate scandal, the intentional nature of the emissions cheating, and the high profile of the case, it is likely that the federal government will file criminal charges against the company. Legal experts say that further clues about the possibility of criminal charges may also lie in the fact that the federal government’s recently filed lawsuit against Volkswagen only involved vehicles with 2.0 liter diesel engines, suggesting that criminal charges may involve the 3.0 liter models.

Any eventual settlement between Volkswagen and the Justice Department could total billions of dollars. Based on the government’s lawsuit against VW, the Department of Justice could seek between $32,500 and $37,500 per vehicle in violation of the Clean Air Act, as well as $2,750-$3,750 per defeat device and $32,500-$37,500 for each day of violations. Although the result of any verdict or settlement involving the Justice Department lawsuit against VW depends on a variety of circumstances, the possible fines involved in the litigation could eventually total as much as $48 billion.

Experts say that criminal penalties in further lawsuit filed by the Justice Department could seek up to twice the total profits earned by Volkswagen from the emissions cheating scheme, which could total hundreds of millions or even billions of dollars. Because of a new Justice Department policy that requires companies to provide information about executives who were potentially responsible for wrongdoing by the company, Volkswagen executives may also face criminal charges in connection with the VW emissions scandal.

VW, Audi Owners File Lawsuit against Volkswagen over Emissions Cheating

In addition to the Justice Department lawsuit, Volkswagen is also facing several lawsuits filed by state governments in connection with Dieselgate. Consumers who purchased or leased a VW, Audi, or Porsche model involved in the emissions scandal and subsequent recall have also filed numerous lawsuits against Volkswagen, alleging that the company deliberately misled the public about the performance and drivability of its diesel-powered vehicles.

The vehicles included in the Volkswagen diesel recall include the 2009-2015 Audi A3 TDI, the 2016 Audi A6 Quattro, the 2016 Audi A7 Quattro, the 2016 Audi A8, the 2016 Audi A8L, the 2016 Audi Q5, the 2015 Porsche Cayenne, the 2009-2015 Volkswagen Beetle TDI, the 2009-2015 Volkswagen Golf TDI, the 2009-2015 Volkswagen Jetta TDI, the 2012-2015 Volkswagen Passat TDI, and the 2014 Volkswagen Touareg.

As Volkswagen’s admissions in the Dieselgate scandal have made clear, the company knew for years that it was selling vehicles that failed to meet U.S. emissions standards and fraudulently lied to its customers by touting the eco-friendly technology of these vehicles. Further investigation into the Volkswagen scandal may reveal that additional VW or Audi models are also affected by the diesel engine emissions issue.

The law firm of Heygood, Orr & Pearson represents more than 600 victims of the Dieselgate emissions scandal and has filed numerous lawsuits on behalf of its clients. Our attorneys have tried or settled hundreds of cases involving product liability for our clients in recent years. Our lawyers have taken on some of the largest corporation in the world on behalf of our clients, including multinational pharmaceutical companies and some of the world’s largest automakers. We believe that everyone who has been the victim of wrongful corporate actions should be entitled to effective legal representation to ensure that their legal rights our fully protected.

If you purchased or leased one of the VW, Audi, or Porsche diesel-powered vehicles involved in the Dieselgate recall, contact the lawyers at Heygood, Orr & Pearson to learn more about whether you qualify to file a lawsuit. For a free legal consultation about your case, please contact us by calling toll-free at 1-877-446-9001, or by following the link to our free case evaluation form and answering a few simple questions to get started.

by Michael Heygood

Michael Heygood is a licensed attorney and partner at HO&P who focuses on insurance and corporate litigation, and other civil arenas. Michael has been named multiple times to the Super Lawyers List.