What does the ECJ judgment mean for owners of diesel vehicles?
Aneta Pacura: The verdict is a huge opportunity for everyone who has not yet received any compensation. In the future it will be much easier to assert claims against the auto industry. Thanks to the groundbreaking decision, the plaintiff and the law firm no longer have to prove that the manufacturers installed the illegal switch-off device intentionally. Negligence is enough - and that is of course much easier. The verdict not only extends to the thermal window, but to all defeat devices that cause a car on the road to exceed the emission values.
So far, the manufacturers have claimed that they had not intentionally acted in an immoral manner. After all, the motor vehicle authorities would have approved the cars for road traffic. Does this excuse no longer work?
I've never understood why the manufacturers got away with it. This is because these switch-off devices must have been installed with the knowledge that the exhaust gas cleaning system will be switched off under certain conditions during regular road operation. In my opinion, it is obvious that this happened intentionally and no longer needs to be proven.
What are these defeat devices actually violating?
Against the legal EU regulations for air pollution control. They specify the permissible limit values to protect people and the environment.
Are you expecting a new wave of lawsuits?
Yes, definitely. There are millions of victims who can still enforce their rights. I alone have around 4,000 active cases pending, and thousands more are in the starting blocks. The Federal Court of Justice has shelved 1,900 revisions and non-admission appeals. They will now all be re-rolled and re-evaluated. I expect that the compensation amounts will be higher than in the first round. We are talking about the diesel scandal 2.0.
Does everyone have to sue individually again?
In Germany, every single case has to be heard in court. There is a model declaratory action. But as lawyers, we cannot initiate them.
Who exactly can benefit from the verdict?
The ECJ judgment affects brands of all car manufacturers, not just the Germans. In this country there is only one restriction: If the time of purchase was more than ten years ago, the claims for damages are statute-barred. I don't see any other statute of limitations. This means that all diesel drivers with an impermissible defeat device have claims - even after a possible software update. This is by no means a guarantee that the vehicles are clean.
What about the amount of damage? Does the ECJ ruling also help consumers, i.e. owners of damaged diesel vehicles?
The ECJ does not specify a specific calculation. But what he says: The amount of damages must be reasonable and effective. That is, it must also adequately compensate consumers and not benefit car manufacturers. We've been fighting for this for years. This decision is revolutionary.
Does that mean you expect significantly higher compensation for consumers?
Yes, definitely! Of course it depends on what is being claimed. If, for example, the vehicle is to be returned, a compensation for use was previously calculated, which often nullified the compensation for damages. In some cases, consumers should return their vehicle without receiving a single penny in compensation. This can not be right! Therefore, the ECJ requires that the compensation must be effective and reasonable.
Lawyers have made a lot of money from the diesel lawsuits. A new plaintiff industry has emerged, which is enforcing mass proceedings.
I think what we're doing is 100 percent right. This is about individual consumers who have suffered significant financial damage and would not stand a chance against the automotive industry on their own. Mass litigation is the only way to build pressure and successfully enforce the rights of individual, aggrieved consumers. And one must not forget: there would not have been so many lawsuits if the car manufacturers had acted in accordance with the law.
The interview first appeared here on Capital.