Dieselgate is the scandal that refuses to die.
For anyone unfamiliar, Dieselgate originally hit Volkswagen back in 2015. They were caught falsifying emissions test results for a number of their diesel models. The result was that their diesel engine vehicles were actually polluting a lot more than they claimed. As the auto industry slowly moves towards greener options, that was obviously a very bad thing. And that’s even mentioning the various government-imposed regulations they were skirting.
So VW was caught, shamed, forced to recall or destroy million of cars, and paid out roughly $33 billion in fines. End of story? Not so fast. A recent court ruling in the United States could have them on the hook for plenty more.
On Monday, Volkswagen lost an appeal in a lawsuit filed by Utah’s Salt Lake County and Florida’s Hillsborough County. A three-judge panel in the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals unanimously sided against the German car maker. The focus of the lawsuit was on excessive environmental damage.
The judges wrote that they were “mindful that our conclusion may result in staggering liability for Volkswagen. But this result is due to conduct that could not have been anticipated by Congress: Volkswagen’s intentional tampering with post-sale vehicles to increase air pollution.”
The two counties each have penalties of $5,000 per day for tampering violations and had a combined total of at least 6,100 polluting Volkswagen diesel vehicles. U.S. District Judge Charles Breyer, who had ruled in the case in 2018, noted at the time that “the potential penalties could reach $30.6 million per day and $11.2 billion per year.”
Volkswagen vowed to seek further review by the full 9th Circuit or the U.S. Supreme Court if necessary, saying the ruling conflicts with the findings of other courts.
The First of Many?
You read that right. That’s another $11.2 billion in fines for every year that VW faked their diesel emissions results. If that fine sticks, it’s another huge hit — even for one the largest corporations on the planet. Naturally, Volkswagen will appeal the decision in an attempt to have those fines removed or reduced.
From a legal perspective, this is fascinating. Salt Lake and Hillsborough counties are merely two of the over 3,000 counties in the United States. If this lawsuit ultimately succeeds, every single country in the U.S. that sold a diesel VW could potentially also sue the company.