A Co Mayo law firm representing hundreds of claimants has become the first in Europe to have a case relating to the global Volkswagen emissions scandal heard in court.
O’Dwyer Solicitors of Ballyhaunis, Co Mayo, was granted the first court order for discovery by Judge Mary Devins in Castlebar District Court last month.
The order directed the German carmaker to provide technical and expert information in relation to the emissions scandal to the solicitors within six weeks.
The order was granted to Evan O’Dwyer representing Eithne Higgins — a nurse with an address in Boyle, Co Roscommon.
The law firm, which employs five solicitors and a further 12 support staff, is representing more than 300 clients planning to take cases against Volkswagen (VW) over the issue which came to light in September 2015 when VW admitted it had fitted ‘cheat software’ to 11m vehicles to disguise the extent of the harmful nitrogen oxide (NOx) emissions its cars produced.
More than 115,000 Irish motorists are estimated to be affected by the issue.
The firm’s internal investigation into that admission uncovered another problem two months later as an issue with carbon dioxide testing in 800,000 cars was discovered.
Some 9,000 Irish owners of VW, Skoda, Seat and Audi were estimated to be affected.
The plaintiff in the case, Ms Higgins, is seeking damages in respect of underpayment of vehicle registration tax and of unpaid motor tax for the years 2013, 2014 and 2015 arising from an underdeclaration of the amount due based on alleged incorrect emissions data.
Ms Higgins is also looking for damages in respect of motor tax for the years 2016 and 2017; depreciation costs caused by “wrongful acts and/or omissions” on behalf of Volkswagen Group Ireland and Volkswagen AG; as well as other damages.
In the United States, VW has struck a €13.9bn deal with authorities to compensate affected car owners.
The deal will see drivers receive up to $10,000 each but no such deal has been forthcoming in Europe.
“There is no compensation for European customers,” a spokesperson for Volkswagen confirmed yesterday.
“The relevant facts and complex legal issues that have played a role in coming to these agreements are materially different from those in Europe and other parts of the world.”
Stricter regulations governing NOx emissions limits for vehicles in the US make the development of technical solutions “more challenging” than in other parts of the world, the spokesperson added.
“In Europe, Volkswagen has been able to agree with the authorities responsible for the issue of a timetable and action plan for the modification of the affected vehicles. The intention is that after the emissions modification, the vehicles will fully comply with emission standards. Implementation of these measures has also already begun.”
O’Dwyer Solicitors has also struck a deal with Hausfeld Lawyers, a firm which also represented VW owners in the US, to share information and co-ordinate their respective efforts on behalf of clients.
Both firms will also be working with partner law firms across the EU and Australasia.
Ms Higgins’ case is due back in court on September 6.
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