'Dieselgate' buyback ordered

World | AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE 26 May 2020

A top German court ruled yesterday that Volkswagen must buy back a diesel car it modified to appear less polluting, a decision that could influence the outcome of tens of thousands of other "dieselgate" cases.

Judges at the Federal Court of Justice in Karlsruhe "effectively upheld" a lower court's ruling that plaintiff Herbert Gilbert can return his car to VW for reimbursement, but he must also accept a discount from the original purchase price for the time he used it.

Almost five years after Volkswagen's admission to cheating on emissions tests involving millions of diesel-engined cars, the ruling is the first real legal setback for VW in its home country. "Volkswagen now aims to soon bring these cases to a close in agreement with the plaintiffs," the company said.

"This judgment means legal certainty for millions of consumers and shows once again that even a huge corporation isn't above the law," Gilbert's lawyer Claus Goldenstein said.

Lead judge Stephan Seiters revisited the familiar story of how VW "for many years systematically brought vehicles onto the market whose software was programmed so that they only met [emissions] limits under test conditions."

Judges said the mere fact of selling the modified car to the plaintiff harmed him - even though VW has always argued the vehicles were "usable" for their intended purpose.

If extended to the thousands of similar cases, the discounts on the value of returned vehicles will limit the potential financial blow to VW.

Buybacks, fines and compensation payments in the United States alone account for most of the more than 30-billion-euro (HK$253.54 billion) cost of the scandal to the manufacturer so far. Around 60,000 individual German VW owners' cases remain open.

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